Pro Bono Project ‘Know Your Rights’ program expanding, nominated for ABA award

Photo of two middle school students watching Forsyth County Judge Denise Hartsfield (JD '91) speak during the Pro Bono Project's 'Know Your Rights' event

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County high school students attend a recent "Know Your Rights" presentation give by Wake Forest Law students' Pro Bono Project. (Photo by Kaitlyn Ruhf)

The Pro Bono Project‘s “Know Your Rights” program has been nominated for the North Carolina Bar Association Annual Pro Bono Award following a request by the Forsyth County School District to expand the program’s reach into area schools. This interactive project has been a pivotal education force in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, area, providing presentations to local communities considered “at-risk” when it comes to understanding the state and federal laws involved in routine interactions with law enforcement officers.

The program was founded in 2015 by Stephanie Jackson (JD ’17), who recognized the need for education regarding the discrepancy in citizen knowledge of rights and constitutionally protected personal liberties. That educational need led Johnson to create the “Know Your Rights” project, which consists of presentations that aim to close the knowledge gap and to better equip individuals with the knowledge necessary to defend their rights during police interactions.

Each presentation starts with two reminders: individuals have the right to counsel and individuals have the right to remain silent. The presentation then goes on to describe the three types of police encounters: the conversation; detention; and arrest. Additionally, these presentations include audience participation, a guide to interacting with officers during traffic stops and a list of helpful community resources included with a section with special rights and concerns for undocumented individuals residing the in the United States.

The “Know Your Rights” program began with a group of six law student volunteers giving the presentation to inmates at the local Cherry Street Prison in Winston-Salem. The project then re-focused its audience to target the Wake Forest University undergraduate community and law students began giving presentations to student-athletes, residential assistants and members of other on-campus student organizations. The project then expanded its reach to the local YMCA. Most recently, with the assistance of Forsyth County District Court Judge Denise J. Hartsfield (JD ’91), the project further expanded its reach to include the Forsyth Country School District. After a successful fall semester presenting to large high school audiences with predominately black and Latino student populations, at the request of school administrators, the project pivoted to reach an even younger audience by presenting to local middle schools.

District Court Judge Hartsfield describes the project as, “This program helps to expel the belief that ignorance of your rights is no excuse when law students have developed a program to share, education and prepare young adults in the Winston-Salem community to ‘Know Your Rights.’”

Moving forward, the project is working on developing its website presence in order to house “Know Your Rights” materials, including tip sheets and business cards, so that community members can also access this important legal information online.

Founder, Stephanie Jackson stated, “I hope to use my experience and understand how to apply the law and potentially draft regulations that will help create and affect social change.”

The “Know Your Rights Project” is one of the many pro bono projects at Wake Forest Law that has uniquely demonstrated an outstanding commitment to enhancing community relations between the University community and the greater Winston-Salem area.

The Wake Forest Pro Bono Project has given the students the opportunity to assist local attorney’s providing cost-efficient legal services to underserved populations while simultaneously expanding the number of pro bono projects in the local Winston-Salem community. Since its inception, the Pro Bono Program has provided students with the invaluable opportunity to put their legal education to use in real-world scenarios while instilling a life-long commitment to pro bono work in the legal profession.

Photo of Forsyth County District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield (JD '91) (far left) poses with law school students currently involved in the "Know Your Rights' Pro Bono Project program.

Forsyth County District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield (JD ’91) (far left) poses with law school students currently involved in the “Know Your Rights’ Pro Bono Project program.