National Center for Youth Law

At the Center

Alumni Profile
Novella Coleman

What brought you NCYL?

In Spring 2010, I participated in a Child Advocacy Clinic through Harvard Law School that matched me with NCYL as a Law Clerk. I worked in person in the Oakland office for three weeks and remotely for the rest of the semester under the supervision of Jesse Hahnel. Jesse had just started the FosterEd website so I helped vet parts of it. I created a Resources section for foster youth and their foster parents, educators, and anyone in their lives to have better access to resources and more opportunity to do well in school.

What is a favorite memory from your work with NCYL?

Former Executive Director John O’Toole would always come by the intern section to check in and tell stories. One time, he talked about Lateefah Simon and the work she did as Executive Director at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR). I remember feeling encouraged that she was in a position of leadership at a civil rights organization, which is hard for women – especially Black women – to do given the imbalance in the legal service profession. When I had the chance to see her speak, she talked about living as a single mother in the Bay Area and leading the Young Women’s Freedom Center (then known as the Center for Young Women’s Development). I realized that she had overcome many of the systemic challenges that NCYL strives to dismantle. I found it really powerful to know that with resources in place – such as community activists and lawyers – we can help create situations in which people like Lateefah can grow, thrive, and help others. Hearing her story helped me see the promise and potential in this area of work and emphasized how important it is for people to use their law degrees to advocate for youth so that they can reach their full potential. I’ll always be grateful to John O’Toole for introducing me to her.  

How did your time at NCYL influence your path?

NCYL was the first legal job I had where I was doing lawyer things beyond research and memoranda writing. It was cool to see lawyer skills being used in a different space. While I worked on the FosterEdConnect website, I was using some legal knowledge but I was mostly working to make information more accessible. This allowed me to gain a new perspective about how I could use my law degree to help people and advocate outside of the narrow confines of litigation or brief writing.

What do you think is important about of NCYL’s work today?

NCYL has a pulse on issues across California and the nation in communities that are often overlooked by other organizations. When I first began working in the California’s Central Valley, I was talking to people in the community and local government officials about their needs. I quickly realized that there was far more need than there were attorneys to address the issues the community was facing. I was really excited when NCYL folks reached out to me about their Planned Parenthood v Promesa Behavior Health case in the Central Valley on defending the reproductive health rights of young women in foster care. I was feeling the weight of working in the Central Valley and not being able to meet all the needs I saw. It was a bright spot for NCYL to reach out and provide much needed support there.