Dear Friends of Legal Aid:
2020 has been a trying year for all of us. But it has been particularly horrific for many of our Black friends and neighbors. COVID-19 has killed Black Americans at a higher rate than any other group, and the murders of George Floyd and many others at the hands of police has once again demonstrated the impact of state violence on Black lives. Perhaps this should come as no surprise in a nation that has so systematically violated the rights of Black Americans over the years – through incarceration, eviction, police brutality, the denial of equal education and healthcare, and the indignity of personal discrimination – but the fact that it is not surprising makes it no less unjust.
When the pandemic reached the District earlier this year, our client community was hit the hardest. Well over 95% of the clients Legal Aid serves are Black or people of color. Nearly 90% of the DC residents who died of COVID-19 so far are Black (74%) or Hispanic (13%). And as stay-at-home orders were issued and schools and work places shut down across the city, our neighbors struggled to both stay safe and make ends meet. Unemployment claims skyrocketed, domestic violence surged, and housing and food insecurity rose sharply. Requests for legal help to Legal Aid increased dramatically this year. Never has Legal Aid faced such profound challenges.
That is why I am extraordinarily proud, and extraordinarily humbled, by the work our staff has done this year, and by the unprecedented support of thousands of people and organizations for our work.
Legal Aid attorneys helped stop the Trump Administration from kicking 700,000 Americans off food stamps; helped shape pandemic relief legislation at the DC Council that will prevent evictions and foreclosures in the District until March 2021 (and defended that moratorium against a relentless attack by DC landlords); helped work with the Courts to ensure that litigants had fair and safe access; and helped thousands of individual clients get their unemployment benefits, reunite with their children, reach safety from domestic violence, keep their homes, and so much more. Legal Aid staff often did this at great personal sacrifice, adjusting to remote work while caring for their own children and loved ones.
And just as they have for decades, Legal Aid’s client community made their own voices heard, in and out of court, whether it was our newly formed Community Advisory Council advocating at the DC Council, or clients bringing their stories to MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.
It was your support in this time of crisis, when so many organizations were forced to cut back, that enabled Legal Aid to expand our impact.
All told, hundreds of thousands of DC residents and Americans nationwide benefited this year because of your generosity and we are proud to be able to share in this report the result of this work alongside the stories of individual clients, whose lives you touched.
President, Board of Trustees
Latham & Watkins
P.S. We are so appreciative for our clients who, after fighting difficult legal challenges, agreed to be photographed for this report. All photography occurred outside and was done in a socially-distant manner. In addition, we are grateful to Alison DeSilva, who contributed her outstanding photography pro bono to this virtual annual report.