Reforming Government Systems and Policies That Could Mean the Difference Between Students' Incarceration and Graduation

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Dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) uses legal action, community education and mobilization, and media and legislative advocacy to ensure students get the educational services that can mean the difference between incarceration and graduation.

Here to share her role in putting the SPLC's mission into action is Ebony Howard. As a managing attorney at the SPLC, Ebony Howard works to reform ineffective school discipline practices that push children out of school in Alabama. 

Q&A With Ebony Howard:

What attracted you to this job & particular cause?

SPLCI am a first-generation college graduate and was raised by a single mother for most of my life. As a result, I have always been very aware that there are kids who look like me and come from similar life circumstances as I did, but who have little hope of achieving positive life circumstances simply because the system is so stacked against them. I know that I was just one teacher, one after-school activity, one season of The Cosby Show away from never achieving the education that I have.

I have always felt a responsibility to empower people who are ignored by society –particularly kids of color. One of the rarest experiences for poor people and disadvantaged groups is speaking their own truth and being heard. I know what it is like to feel powerless and ignored and want to ensure that others do not experience that same feeling.

The goal of my professional life is to reform government systems that harm children. This includes school policies that push children out of the classroom and into the justice system for behavior that in the past only merited a trip to the principal’s office. It’s about reforming a juvenile justice system to ensure that children get their lives back on track instead of pushed deeper into the justice system. 

Walk us through a “typical” day in your shoes. How are you making an impact through your work?

My day at the office begins by meeting various community advocates and lawyers who are in the field. During these meetings, we discuss the status of campaigns and cases. I also give them feedback to support our clients as we work to give them a voice. On other days, I may be in court for a hearing or meeting with agency leaders to stop practices that shortchange the future of vulnerable children.

What do you find most rewarding about your job at the end of the day?

Providing children and families who have historically been ignored by government systems and the status quo with a voice to air the grievances is the most rewarding part of my job.

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ or advice you’d give to anyone with a similar position, what would it be and why?

Organization is key to everything. Organizing your time, work tasks and personal life is the most effective way to get tasks done and remain sane.

Critical thinking is also very important. You should ask questions of everyone and every system. Too many people take what others say at face value.

Looking out 3 to 5 years, beyond the obvious trends, what do you think will be the next big change in your industry?

In the next three to five years, I believe that the country is going to continue to move into a full-blown renaissance of the civil rights movement that focuses on several issues, including the criminalization of adolescents. An awakening is occurring in this country. 


Our thanks to Ebony Howard for sharing her insights and expertise with us! To connect with and learn more about the impact Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is making and support their work with a donation, click here


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