The North Carolina Bar Foundation’s (“NCBF”) chief objective is to unite the talent and generosity of the legal profession to be a power of greater good for North Carolinians. Much of the NCBF’s success depends on the commitment of donors and volunteers whose leadership inspires pro bono and public service programs that further the values of access to justice, service, civic education, and professionalism. Even further, the NCBF’s Endowment Committee convenes a few times a year to decide on which well-deserved organization to make site visits and provide grants to North Carolina organizations that are engaged in programming or projects that advance the Foundation’s chief objective.
Each year, the Young Lawyers Division’s (“YLD”) Chair-Elect is appointed to serve on the NCBF’s Endowment Committee. This allows the YLD to have a voice and input into the NCBF’s decisions and furtherance of its mission as well as offering a perspective from young lawyers who volunteer their time and services to the NCBF’s mission. As this year’s YLD Chair-Elect, it was my pleasure to visit the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence (the “Center”) as part of my service on the NCBF’s Endowment Committee.
The Center’s primary mission is to identify, investigate, and advance credible claims of innocence, obtaining justice for people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, for the victims of those crimes, and for the actual perpetrators. Its secondary mission is to educate policymakers, the public, and legal and law enforcement communities about the factors that contribute to wrongful conviction, as well as emerging solutions that can increase the reliability of convictions.
While visiting the Center, I was able to see firsthand the invaluable and life-changing service the Center provides. I was able to learn about the exonerees, such as Willie Grimes, who was exonerated after nearly a quarter century after being convicted with weak identification evidence despite having eight witnesses testifying that Willie was miles away at the time of the crime, and Joseph Sledge, who spent over 35 years in prison for a crime he did not commit despite prosecutors knowing fingerprints, palm prints, and shoeprints at the crime scene did not come from Joseph. There are several other similar stories that the Center has been involved in.
As the Center has operated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation for as long as it has been in existence, the Center relies on funding and donations from its generous supporters and outside sources such as the NCBF.
In addition to providing a grant to the Center, the NCBF also provides funding to several YLD integral initiatives such as the Bar Exam Committee which assists law students and young lawyers with non-substantive matters for the bar exam; the Civic Engagement committee which implements programming for young lawyers interested in careers in civic engagement, state and local politics, or the judiciary; Law Day festivities held the first Friday in May to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession and awarding the Liberty Bell to a member of our profession who exemplifies lifelong service to the law in North Carolina; Legal Feeding Frenzy, the YLD’s annual food drive competition among North Carolina law firms, law schools, and other organizations; and, last, the New Lawyers In Practice Committee, which assists and provides high-level guidance on substantive matters to young lawyers.
While young lawyers oftentimes have limited funds and are just starting their careers, I implore anyone reading this to consider donating to the NCBF. Donate to the NCBF today. If making a one-time donation may be too much, you are able to make monthly donations in smaller increments. For example, the cost of one lunch can be donated to the NCBF each month and will make a difference for important causes and organizations that rely on funding and donations. No amount is too small. As previously noted, the NCBF does amazing work to further its mission and provides important funding to North Carolina organizations that depend on funding from the NCBF to continue providing these exceptional services to North Carolinians.