2020 Zagoren Lecture

NYLAG’s Caprice Jenerson Speaks about the Intersectionality of Poverty, Racism, and Access to Justice

By Chloe Tai
The Daily Targum

Caprice Jenerson was the keynote speaker for the annual 2020 Zagoren Lecture on March 8, which was sponsored by the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College (AADC).

Every year, the AADC hosts the Zagoren Lecture in honor of the late Adelaide Marcus Zagoren, the former AADC Executive Director and Class of 1940. This year, Jenerson, Class of 1990 and the director of the Pro Bono and Volunteer Unit and Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), was invited to speak on the topic of “Access Justice for Those Experiencing Poverty: Historical View and Perspective for the Future.”

As a criminal defense lawyer, Jenerson routinely represented men and women in the criminal justice system.

“Poverty and the lack of access to the justice system is really a pervasive and ingrained systemic issue in all of our systems,” Jenerson said.

After more than 20 years practicing law in Georgia, she said she decided to move to Washington D.C. to attack the criminal justice system from a different lens. From there, she joined NYLAG as senior management and made it her mission to reduce the number of approximately 1.8 million people in poverty in New York at the time.

“We have to begin having these conversations with one another and learn about what are the real issues, not the issues that end, but what are the historical issues,” Jenerson said. “There are implications from slavery that are still happening today that we still have to deal with. Can’t sweep it under the rug, it’s still here.”

Jenerson said one way of understanding the poverty issue is with the groundwater approach. In the analogy, Jenerson describes how having just a couple of fish dying in a lake may not seem like a problem at first, but if more fish keep dying, then it would be prudent to look at the deeper issue.

Jenerson concluded her lecture by opening up the conversation to invite members of the audience to ask questions and offer their own perspectives. Some solutions discussed included volunteering, making informed voting decisions and getting more information on the courts and politicians in their communities.

Channel Jordan, a Rutgers and Douglass alumni from the Class of 2017, works with Jenerson at NYLAG and attended the event.

“I think it’s really important that we are addressing the needs of the people that are experiencing poverty, because we see this perpetuation of poverty. I think what (Jenerson) mentioned is like the groundwater approach is that a lot of times we aren’t attacking the root of the issue,” Jordan said.

While still at Rutgers, Jordan said she attended the Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb S.T.E.A.M. Women’s Empowerment Conference. Her mentor, Keisha Dabrowski, assistant vice chancellor for Diversity Strategy, Communications and Engagement, knew that Jenerson was looking for help and connected Jordan to the position at NYLAG.

“I admire Caprice, particularly her drive and her ability to really look at issues and view it from a perspective that a lot of other people aren’t viewing it from,” Jordan said.

Jordan said events like this are important because they offer a chance for alumnae to have conversations about different issues and stay connected with the University.

“(The Associate Alumnae) holds all kinds of events where I think it’s really about bringing people back together, back to Rutgers, to explore various issues but also to build upon the sisterhood that we started when we came to Rutgers,” Jordan said.

Wilma Harris, Douglass College Class of 1966, a former member of the AADC Board of Directors and an inductee to the AADC Society of Excellence, said she worked with Jenerson in the AADC. She said the programs offered by the AADC are beneficial for students.

“Any time that you can expose students to the ideas of what’s happening outside of the classroom so that they can see the connect between what’s happening in the classroom and the real world, that’s what education is all about,” Harris said.

Originally published in The Daily Targum on March 9, 2020

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