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Nation's Top Legal Justice Group for Kids, Announces New Leader

Portrait photograph of Shakti Belway

The National Center for Youth Law has chosen one of its own – and the first woman and person of color – to carry forward the organization’s mission to transform our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, child welfare  and youth justice. 

Today the National Center for Youth Law announced the appointment of Shakti Belway as the next Executive Director of the nation’s leading youth law organization.  

“Shakti has the vision, intellect and skill to lead the National Center for Youth Law into the future," Board President Mary Bissell said. "She breaks ground as the organization’s first woman and person of color to be Executive Director. We are thrilled.”  

Shakti’s legacy of impact — as a student at Yale University and Stanford Law School, and throughout her career in child and youth advocacy, and in partnership with communities — precedes her recent appointment.  Shakti joined the National Center for Youth Law in 2020 as Deputy Director of Policy, Litigation, and Programs. She demonstrated success in this role through her collaborative leadership style and focus on the organization's impact benefiting children and youth.  Shakti brings deep experience in community lawyering, litigation, direct representation, policy development, legislative reform, and strategic mobilization. 

“I am honored and humbled to lead an organization with colleagues that, like me, believe in the incredible power, agency, and wisdom of children and youth,” Shakti said. “Children and youth deserve fairness and dignity.  From working as a young person in a homeless shelter for women and children, to college when I spent time in Northern Uganda where children were being kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers in a civil war, to teaching at Head Start, to becoming a lawyer to challenge those who perpetrate or overlook mistreatment of young people, my personal mission is the same as NCYL’s: to fight for child, youth, and community justice and transformation.”

For the last seven months, Shakti served as the National Center for Youth Law's Interim Co-Executive Director after the planned departure of former Executive Director Jesse Hahnel. In partnership with her colleagues, Shakti led organizational priorities, including NCYL’s multi-strategy advocacy and its strategic planning process. She impressed the board with her leadership abilities, deep commitment to NCYL’s work, and genuine respect for her colleagues.

“We are extremely excited about Shakti’s leadership,” Board President Bissell said. “Shakti is a talented lawyer who understands the complexities of NCYL's work across litigation, systems reform, and programmatic work – and has experience in all three areas. We were inspired by her successes in her previous leadership role at NCYL.  She understands NCYL’s people and culture, as well as the significant opportunities for NCYL to shape the future of our national priorities for children and youth.” 

For more than 50 years, the National Center for Youth Law has worked to center the voices and experiences of children and youth denied access to educational, health, and social well-being opportunities, particularly Black youth and youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, youth who have disabilities, immigrant youth, and youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems. 

“Shakti is the right leader for this moment and the National Center for Youth Law’s next chapter,” said Mona Tawatao, National Center for Youth Law Board Vice President. “I look forward to working with her and continuing our work hand-in-hand with youth to transform public systems and strengthen communities.”