Four Florida A&M University College of Law students are recipients of the Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship. Alba Manuela Suarez, Jai’Ehir Jackson-Hawkins, Derrick Gaiter and Seana-Jahan La Coa received the monetary awards.
The program provides grants allowing students at participating law schools to work in unpaid public interest law positions during the summer. As Rattlers for Justice, the FAMU Law recipients are deeply passionate about practicing law and making a difference.
This opportunity is extra special for Alba Manuela Suarez who is from San Cristobal, Venezuela. The third-year law student has memories of how challenging the immigration system was for her family and friends. Suarez is dedicated to pursuing a career in law to make a difference in the public interest field.
“I desire to become a lawyer because I want to assist those individuals that continue to be suppressed by our legal system,” said Suarez. “I am determined to use my legal skills to fight for important matters and help those who would otherwise have little chance of succeeding in our judicial system due to lack of compassionate representation.”
With the John Paul Stevens Fellowship, Suarez works with the Department of Children and Families where her passion for public interest law continues to grow.
The dream to become a lawyer started in the third grade for Jai’Ehir Jackson-Hawkins. The Wheeling, West Virginia native credits her teacher Barbara Brooks for igniting her passion for law.
“We had a career week where we researched careers and had a mock job fair where we were able to speak to different professionals about their careers,” said Jackson-Hawkins. “During our silent reading time, my teacher provided me with books geared towards history and law. She also helped me research the steps necessary to become an attorney and motivated me to keep my grades up to do so.”
As a John Paul Stevens Fellow, Jackson-Hawkins is assigned to FAMU Law’s Legal Clinic where she works with the Virgil Hawkins Fellowship. “We are providing services to indigent clients in the areas of housing, family, and domestic violence. The program is designed to ensure access to the justice system for the underprivileged and disadvantaged,” said Jackson-Hawkins. “I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and appreciate the John Paul Stevens Foundation for providing the funding for me to complete this experience.”
Derrick Gaiter is a third-year law student from Clearwater, Florida who also appreciates the opportunity to be a John Paul Stevens Fellow.
“Earning the John Paul Stevens Fellowship is a phenomenal investment in my legal career. I am beaming with Rattler pride,” said Gaiter. “As a legal intern at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Federal Public Defender’s Office in the Southern District of Florida, I am receiving hands-on experience in the preparation of criminal cases in both state and federal court while being able to attend pre-file conferences, court hearings, jury and bench trials, and depositions.” Gaiter recalls always wanting to become a lawyer to ask the tough questions and help the underserved.
Seana-Jahan La Coa is a third-year student from Palm Beach, Florida. “I am currently participating in the Guardian Ad Litem Legal Clinic, facilitated by College of Law professors,” said La Coa. “The John Paul Stevens Fellowship allows me to participate fully in the benefits of the legal clinic, specifically working closely with professors as I explore my passion for public interest work.”
FAMU Law students have embraced the label Rattlers for Justice because of their dedication to shaking up the status quo. “Our Rattlers for Justice are perfect for the John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship because they are using their legal skills to address institutional inequities and serve those too often excluded from or ignored by the legal system,” said FAMU Law Clinic Director Mark Dorosin.
In 2021, the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation expanded the Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship program in partnership with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with law schools. The partnership includes Florida A&M University College of Law, Howard University School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, Southern University Law Center, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
These law schools are among the nation’s most diverse in terms of faculty and students. They are well-known for their commitment to public interest and preparing a diverse group of law students for leadership.
The Paul Stevens Fellows from the HBCUs are committed, talented individuals who are working at a wide range of public interest organizations in both the public and nonprofit sectors this summer, and they join a national cohort of Stevens Fellows.