Pedaling justice: Law student and father set off on 1,350-mile ride for criminal justice reform

By Jenny Whalen
U-M Law

There's biking to work, and there's riding 1,350 miles on a tandem to support criminal justice reform. Jessica Gingold will begin her summer doing the latter.

A rising 3L at the University of Michigan School of Law, Gingold is embarking on a three-week bike trip in May with her father, Ohio civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, to raise money for the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) and the Children's Law Center (CLC). Charting a course along the Mississippi River, the pair will set off from their hometown of Cincinnati, pass through Ferguson, Mo., and finish in New Orleans, where Gingold will begin her summer job at the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights.

"Pedaling Justice," as they've dubbed their endeavor, will be the duo's second tandem ride for criminal justice reform, having previously supported OJPC with a 1,200-mile trek from Mobile, Ala., to Cincinnati.

"It's no secret that my dad is my hero and always has been, for many reasons," Gingold said. "What's really special about this ride, that isn't true of the last, is that now I'm in law school. I've spent the last few years working in education and juvenile justice and now what I look forward to, other than the father-daughter time, is our dialogue about justice-I have new questions I can ask him and ways to understand and engage with his analysis and critiques of the system."

The decision to travel through Ferguson, where recent events have sparked new debate on civil rights, was deliberate on the part of father and daughter.

"Ferguson is a place where there is already a lot of attention and energy on reform issues," Gingold said. "My dad has worked for decades on issues of criminal justice reform-he was one of the architects of the Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement to improve police-community relations-so we'll spend a full day meeting with community members and lawyers in Ferguson to dialogue about reform efforts, facilitate new connections, and share what Cincinnati learned from its experience."

Gingold added she is also looking forward to the spontaneous conversations that will inevitably take place. "We're making several stops that are on-point to issues we are working toward, but there is a certain richness to the conversations we have at the gas station or the B&B. I'm always in awe of the conversations we have with people we've only just met. You really see the humanity of our country in those interactions."

If time allows, the pair plans to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana (the only plantation museum in that state with a focus on slavery) as well.

In all, the ride is expected to take about 20 cycling days. At its conclusion, donations made in support of the effort will benefit OPJC and CLC, two Midwest civil rights organizations close to both riders' hearts-Gerhardstein founded OJPC in 1997 and Gingold worked with CLC during her 1L summer.

"I came to law school committed to youth empowerment, and hoped to find ways to ensure the voices of young people would be heard in the often disempowering systems that impact their lives," Gingold said. "CLC is progressive in the juvenile justice world. It employs a holistic representation model for every young person they represent, aiming to provide not only positive legal outcomes, but also positive life outcomes. They focus on both individual representation and systemic reform. I aspire to apply that same interdisciplinary and multi-systemic approach in the work I do. It's exciting to be supporting both CLC and OJPC on this ride."

Reprinted with permission of U-M Law

Published: Thu, Apr 30, 2015