Kim Y. Evans

Why I left a career in public health to go to law school

As an African American female, a former public health analyst with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for more than ten years prior to law school, and a volunteer for a variety of social service organizations during much of my adult life, I believe many of my life, work, and volunteer experiences have involved issues related to the advancement of women and the law.

Having been reared by my mother alone beginning near age five gave me an early personal introduction to the struggles many women, particularly women of color, face in our society. Like so many women, my mother juggled many responsibilities while rearing me--family, school, and work--yet found time to talk with me, encourage, and support me all my life to the present day.

Similar to my mother, I chose a career field that would allow me to help others. During most of my tenure with HHS, I worked for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA's mission to increase access to health care and related services for our Nation's most underserved is a mission that I always appreciated supporting. Many organizations funded by HRSA serve a large proportion of women, especially women of color. HRSA's programs include a number of maternal and child health grants as well as Federally-funded community health centers, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, and a number of health care provider programs designed to place health professionals in communities of need.

My work in two major health care safety net programs--Health Care for the Homeless and the CARE Act--allowed me the opportunity to assist some of these HRSA-funded organizations who serve those most disenfranchised and on the margins of our society. Homeless and HIV-infected individuals are two special populations that I have both learned a great deal about during the last several years as well as hopefully assisted in my former role as an analyst and project officer.

In the case of both the HIV/AIDS and homelessness epidemics, the number of women and children affected has increased greatly each year during the last several years. With the tragedy of increased homelessness in the 1990s that included the phenomenon of family homelessness, more and more women, with and without children, have become and remained homeless. As the demographics of the HIV/AIDS epidemic have shifted, more and more women have also become infected and affected by HIV.

It was my participation in a leadership program seven years ago that served as a major catalyst for my career change and entry into the legal profession. In considering those I cared most about and how I might be able to make the greatest difference in people's lives, particularly those most disenfranchised (many of whom are women), I thought law would be the best avenue.

Law in itself is clearly not the same as Justice; however, it can be a magnificent tool to bring about justice. Civil rights laws and affirmative action, Title IX, the Great Society Programs, Roe v. Wade, and every piece of authorizing legislation for Federal programs designed to help those most in need in our Nation are all excellent examples of how powerful the law can be.

The need for people of color and females in the field of law is tremendous. The number of female lawyers is not excessive by any means (~250,000 in the U.S.) but there are incredibly few female attorneys who are women of color: 16,000 are African American/Black, 11,000 are Hispanic, and 9,000 are Asian.

I am hopeful that receipt of my law degree will allow me to go beyond the assistance I could provide in the past through my former employment as well as volunteer activities such as working in a shelter or soup kitchen, serving as an adult literacy tutor, leading a local grassroots policy group for Bread for the World, working as legislative coordinator for a local chapter of Federally Employed Women (FEW), and assisting family, friends, and neighbors in a variety of capacities.

Although I expect the specifics of my anticipated path to become clearer as time passes, after earning a law degree, I see myself providing as many pro bono services as possible working for a legal aid office or a community-based organization that serves exclusively those least able to afford such services--economically disadvantaged individuals, many of whom are people of color and women. I would also likely be working within that organization directly or for a partner organization that focuses on public policy advocacy at multiple levels to bring about systemic change.

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