New group aims to further Keith Center mission

With construction on the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights under way, a number of Wayne State University Law School students have joined to form the Keith Students for Civil Rights organization.

According to Chair Ellen Schneider, a second-year Wayne Law student, the group hopes to raise awareness of community civil rights issues and provide more opportunities for Wayne Law students to meaningfully engage in civil rights advocacy and meet community civil rights needs.

The student organization, which officially formed in fall 2010, already has planned or assisted with a number of student and community events. In January, the group organized "Legal Opportunities in Civil Rights and Community Development," an event focused on informing students of the diverse range of careers available in this field in the Metro Detroit community.

"We had seven attorneys with various backgrounds participate in a panel discussion and then a one-on-one interview opportunity so that students could sit down to talk to the panelists," Schneider said. "Students really seemed to enjoy the event and we are hoping to make it an annual occurrence."

The student members also have helped promote Keith Center activities and attended civil rights-related events including: "Platinum in the Profession: A Conference Highlighting African American Leadership in the Law," in October; RightsFest, a one-day, pan-ethnic, civil rights film festival, also in October; the National Lawyers Guild's 72nd Annual Dinner, held in November, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the landmark case U.S. v. U.S. District Court, known as the "Keith case;" and the Detroit Youth Summit.

Additionally, the group has a number of ambitious projects in the works. "We are planning a youth civil rights conference to take place at Wayne Law this spring. It's still in the very early stages, and we are looking for students to get involved," Schneider said. "We are also hoping to create a short film for orientation next fall to introduce students to the Keith Center and the legacy of civil rights in Detroit."

The group's members have been energetic about developing projects, according to Schneider. "We rely on the students to come up with ideas and implement them," she said. "The whole purpose of our group is to give students opportunities to make civil rights and community development a part of their experience at law school."

Second-year Wayne Law student Aaron Kochenderfer is one of those energetic members. "Our group has an exciting amount of potential," he said. "We want to be proactive and contribute to the field of civil rights."

The group also serves as an advisory board to the Keith Center.

"Our students are our greatest assets," said Peter Hammer, Wayne Law professor and director of the Keith Center. "The Keith Students for Civil Rights group proves this to be the case once again. They are taking the lead on a number of issues and are taking the work of the Keith Center directly to the student body. I look forward to working closely with this group moving forward."

Published: Mon, Mar 14, 2011