By RIDA ALI, age 11

PHOTO: The Sylvia Rivera Law Project
PHOTO: The Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Civil rights attorneys help people fight for their rights when they have experienced an injustice. Zahyr K-R Lauren is an attorney for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York City.

Rida Ali: What is the Sylvia Rivera Law Project? Can you explain a little bit about what you do?

Zahyr K-R Lauren: The Sylvia Rivera Law Project seeks to increase the political voice and visibility of low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex or gender non-conforming. SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health and legal services for our communities.

As the director of the Survival and Self Determination Project, I assist people in name change proceedings, government identification issues, health care challenges and immigration proceedings.

RA: What motivated you to work in this field?

ZK-RL: When I was 13, my brother was put face down on the ground while police pointed a weapon at his head. My brother was only 14 and was on his way to a leadership retreat. He was pulled over with his friends for no reason. He is Black and that’s all that mattered to the police. After this terrible incident, I decided I would become a lawyer to fight the injustices that my family continues to face because we are Black.

RA: Are civil rights issues still a problem for people of different races, ethnicities, and gender? Why do you think this is the case?

ZK-RL: Civil rights is still an issue because this country is not honest about its humanstory. In order to be fair, we must first be honest. There are more Black people in jail than were enslaved during slavery. Brown immigrants are being jailed at record rates because they crossed lines that America made up after stealing their land. Native American people often live in poverty after years of their land, being stolen. Certain groups will not have civil rights until this country commits to righting these wrongs.

RA: What do you hope to achieve through your work?

ZK-RL: I hope that as a lawyer, I am able to lift up the voices of people who are oppressed and targeted by the law. The law was designed to keep certain people in an inferior place. I want to be a part of making the law fair to everyone.

RA: What advice do you have for kids interested in fighting for social justice?

ZK-RL: Fighting for social justice can be hard on your heart. Fighting for social justice may mean you are fighting for your own right to live and be free. Take care of yourself while you are fighting. Be good to yourself. Be kind. Love hard.