Kevin Scott Corkran of Boston College is our Fall 2021 winner of the Funk & Associates Law Student Scholarship. His essay describes how teaching high school biology exposed him to the impact of the legal system on underprivileged students, which became a calling to focus on the Law.
As I sat on the graduation stage, pondering my future and trying to forget my awkward speech, the supposed happiest moment of my life was dwarfed by the uncertainty in the undertaking I had already begun- teaching Biology at North Miami Senior High School. I entered education like a moth drawn to a lamp: hungry, fluttering, and ultimately clueless. I sought a different challenge from most of my peers: learning how to inspire others through the classroom in order to create change in my home state.
As hard as I worked, as many hours as I put into the profession, I agonized that I was not doing enough. I helped transition NHS to a new sponsor, which ensured students would be competitive college applicants, but everywhere I peered there remained setbacks. I saw classes with substitutes because teachers quit midyear. I heard teachers refuse to teach, their kids loudly socializing, a failure of leadership. No matter how good of a teacher I was, I could not stop the unyielding flow of systemic difficulties faced by Jacksonville’s underprivileged students through the classroom alone. There are many stories at our school and in Jacksonville similar to those I describe, and they all ring of a common bandit: a lack of institutional support for minority, low-income scholars. Marquese, a hilarious senior with a smile brighter than his grill, told me he had been in jail; I was crushed. Countless other stories of students’ interactions with the criminal justice system tore at my insides, gnawing and prodding at my conscience until I became so livid I would cry in my car after work, fed up with the injustices faced by my children. This was abhorrently unfair. So I did something about it, and I began an internship with the Duval County State’s Attorney’s Office last summer in order to learn how to rectify this situation.
In this position, I was afforded the opportunity to participate in the efforts State Attorney Nelson is undertaking to reform the criminal justice system. I immediately began asking important questions to her staff, seeking to understand more about their prosecution practices. I worked under London Kite, who assigned me cold cases but expanded my workload and eventually let me critique a memo she had written on a pretrial sentencing motion. I collaborated with a Harvard student in writing the memo advocating for the creation of a Young Adult Court, an initiative she was spearheading. It focused on building a deferment system for young offenders, offering a multi-pronged approach to reduce recidivism while helping these individuals adjust to adulthood through counseling. Through a belief in second chances, this program aims to improve Duval County in a long-lasting approach: something so meaningful for the community and I was thankfully able to contribute to it. I also helped draft a deposition memo on a quadruple homicide for the victim’s families, which taught me the overlooked importance of legal work. I had to read hundreds of pages of police reports, describe the crime scene photographs, and synthesize all this information into a coherent document. I was proactive, picking up many assignments with fervor. Due to my dedication, State Attorney Nelson invited me to a presentation with D.C. and local nonprofits analyzing Jacksonville’s exorbitant bail practices, with a focus on future collaborations between different sectors of society. This experience taught me that real lives are always at stake, just like they are in the classroom. As such, my first experience in legal work left me with a fervent desire to continue my impact.
Having completed my first year at Boston College, I have had several opportunities to impact my community. I wrote legislation designed to eliminate the usage of cash bail, change the state income tax rate, and expand voting on college campuses. I worked last summer at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where I served as a summer counsel in wage-theft cases against employers. I was a research assistant for a professor investigating the constitutionality of H.R.1, the voting reform bill under consideration this Congress. I constantly reach out opportunities to make an impact on my world. Being the first in my family to attend law school has complicated my experience by imposing hidden social costs, and by requiring additional time and effort to learn hidden codes of the profession.
Justice requires all students being able to pursue education without systemic barriers. This means that education funding cannot be based on the property tax, which explicitly awards wealthier neighborhoods more funding for their education. It is important that law, policy, private practice, and nonprofits work together to resolve this fatal flaw in our educational system.
My current work at Boston College Law School is focused on expanding legislative transparency by researching practices across the fifty states and rating each state. This will require a lot of work, but it is crucial because legislative reform will precipitate more equitable legislation. My project’s ultimate goal is to argue that a lack of legislative transparency is a violation of fundamental rights, and potentially prepare for a lawsuit against Massachusetts.