I strive daily to become a “social engineer,” as Charles Hamilton Houston described, because to whom much is given much is expected.
“A lawyer’s either a social engineer or … a parasite on society … A social engineer [is] a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who [understands] the Constitution of the United States and [knows] how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.”
To inspire change locally, last fall, I volunteered at Disability Independence Group Inc. (“DIG”), a non-profit organization. They had various projects to advocate for the civil rights of individuals belonging to all suspect and quasi-suspect classes. The core focus of the work consisted of bringing awareness in the community to rampant latent disabilities, such as autism.
DIG worked closely with the Coral Gables Police Department to implement the “Wallet Card Program.” A wallet card is a card that is used by a disabled individual that specifies that individual’s disability. If an individual already possesses a card, upon contact with law enforcement the disabled simply hands over the card to the officer to prevent wrongful arrest due to abnormal behaviors, which the officer may associate with drug use.
Once the department determines an individual without a card is disabled, the individual is referred to DIG. DIG met with The Honorable Carlos Martinez and members of his staff to educate them on how to properly communicate with deaf arrestees and inmates.
This semester I prepare taxes as an agent of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance on Saturday mornings. As the only Haitian-American at my site, I also translate for clients who are not proficient in English. One of the customers I assisted this year, after learning of his return amount, informed me that the funds will be used to buy a long overdue mattress for his son. My involvement with VITA goes beyond preparing taxes. No matter how nominal a return may be, for most VITA’s clientele my interaction and efforts make substantial impacts on their lives.
Samuel Rony is a second-year law student at St. Thomas University School of Law. He was born and raised in Haiti.