2023 Community Engagement Fellows

About the BPDA Community Engagement Fellowship

The BPDA Community Engagement Fellowship is a 12-week summer program that pairs Black undergraduate and graduate HBCU students, who aspire to do racial equity and community defense work, with public defender offices.

The Community Engagement Fellows are given hands-on lessons about addressing systemic issues of racism that plague the legal system. They also have the opportunity to support their hosting public defender office to implement a project or program that expands its outreach to the communities it serves to promote racial equity.

Learn more about the BPDA Community Engagement Fellowship.

Meet the 2023 Fellows

Thalya Baptiste is a rising junior, political science major, and sociology minor at Morgan State University located in Baltimore, MD. Throughout her matriculation at Morgan, she has served as the vice president of the National Council of Negro Women, the Political Action Chair and Community Service Chair for the Morgan State Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a sophomore class senator in the Student Government Association.

Thalya is also a recipient of the Martin D. Jenkins Scholarship, the highest scholarship offered by the university. With all of her responsibilities, she manages a 3.6 GPA. Furthermore, Thalya has gained experience in the political field by interning for Reginald Benbow, a candidate for Maryland State Delegate, and Tyler Alcorn, a candidate for the mayor of Baltimore.

This summer, she has joined the Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Policy and Community Engagement Project. Through this project, she is supporting the organization’s legislative campaigns and family defense staff working in court and in the community to support parents impacted by the family regulation system.

Hope Brown is a rising senior from Baltimore, Maryland. She attends Morgan State University, where she majors in Applied Liberal Arts, with a minor in Sociology. During her academic career, she volunteered with Loris Hands, Turn Around Incorporation, and Law Links as a summer intern with the Johns Hopkins Legal Department. Helping people from all walks of life has been a personal goal of hers. Hope received her CNA/GNA and CMA certification during her spring semester all while balancing being a mother. 

Hope’s aspiration to become an attorney began with her passion to help others. Hope believes being granted this wonderful opportunity to be a part of the Black Public Defender Association gives her hope to continue to give back and help people within her community. She is looking forward to networking and meeting other individuals who care to make a change and be a voice to those who need it. She is also excited about applying what she has learned over the years to impact her community.

This summer, she has joined the MD Office of the Public Defender’s (MOPD) Baltimore Service Array Team, which includes attorneys, social workers, and community engagement staff who collaborate to provide holistic reentry services to MOPD’s Baltimore City clients. She is focusing on the rapid response needs of clients at their bail review, and expanding collaboration between MOPD and community partners.

Yasmeen Bryant is a rising junior at Cheyney University, majoring in Social Relations with a concentration in American Political Science. She is the recipient of Keystone Honors scholarship.

In addition to her studies, she is the Treasurer of the Pre-Law society and a member of the D.I.V.A.S program.

This summer, she has joined the Defender Association of Philadelphia to assist in coordinating the inaugural summer session of their Junior Defenders program. This community education program is designed for middle and high school students who attend school in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the criminal legal system. The program educates youth about the courts, engages young people to become leaders in their schools and community, and encourages youth to challenge injustice and participate in pro-social behaviors to build safer, stronger, communities.

Shuwonjah Jeffrey is a sophomore political science major on a pre-law track at the illustrious Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. She was born in the Bronx, NY and raised in Bridgeport, CT.

Shuwonjah is involved in several organizations on campus, such as the Caribbean Students Association and the Tropical Xpressionz dance team. Additionally, she also holds executive board positions as the Events Coordinator for Black Girls Vote and Miss Pre Law for the 2023-24 academic school year with the Pre-Law Association.

She aspires to represent her community and become a successful defense attorney. She is very passionate about addressing the issues our community faces on a day-to-day basis and wants to continue to use her education and resources to actively work to dismantle those issues.

This summer, she is supporting the CT Division of Public Defender Services’ campaign to provide their clients, their families, and the communities they serve with information about their rights when interacting with law enforcement and knowledge on navigating the criminal justice system. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of arrests, consensual searches, and fatalities while increasing reports of illegal police conduct.

Jayla Johnson is a rising senior from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She attends Howard University, where she majors in History, with a minor in Spanish. Most recently she’s had the distinguished opportunity to join Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.

She loves to travel, read, and spend time with her family and friends. She also enjoys helping others and learning new things to share with the people around her. 

This summer, Jayla is supporting the Orleans Public Defenders with the creation of a new community-based public defender hub to bring their representation and services directly to the community in a much more easily accessible way.

This community legal clinic aims to serve the low-income families pushed to the outskirts of the city over the last 18 years, specifically New Orleans East, where many everyday services are limited.

Nia J. Primm is a rising senior at Spelman College with Honors, majoring in Economics with a minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation. She is the marketing director for Future Business Leaders of Spelman and a member of the NAACP Political Action Committee. Nia has been involved in digital marketing on numerous projects and campaigns and prides herself in her ability to analyze data to achieve the goals of the project.

Nia is an alumna of Cleveland School of the Arts, where she graduated in the top 10 of her class with a major in Vocal Performance. She continues her vocal interest by being involved in the music department at Spelman, taking weekly vocal lessons, and participating in concerts at Spelman College. Nia also serves the community through the SpelReads program, where she tutors K-5 grade students in literature and also assists in civic and political projects. Additionally, Nia actively participates in a Black think tank in Ohio called The SOLUTION. Nia has aspirations to attend law school after she completes her undergrad.

This summer, Nia joins the Cuyahoga County Office of Public Defenders in Cleveland, OH to support their efforts to increase the impact they have on collateral consequences resulting from a criminal conviction. She will also help the office build trust with the community and potential clients to illustrate that public defenders are one of the most important institutions within the criminal legal system.

Mykah Scott is a rising junior at Tuskegee University where she is majoring in Political Science and English, with a minor in Creative Writing. On campus, Mykah serves as the Chair of Communications for the Tuskegee Pre Law Society. She is also a member of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity.

Mykah is from the Space City (Houston, TX), where she represented the city of on the youth slam poetry team called MetaFour Houston 2021-2023. Mykah enjoys the arts with a passion in both writing and social justice. She was awarded the Certificate of Achievement by Chair of Arts & Letters Houston Alumae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta 2023 for her work in the Houston liberal arts community.

This summer, Mykah joins the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) to support the support the Prisoner and Reentry Legal Services (PRLS) team in its community engagement, education, and outreach programming. She will also assist the Community Defender Division (CDD) Chief and PRLS Deputy Chief in planning events, trainings, and communications with community members, community-based organizations, and grassroots groups to promote awareness, education, and collaboration.