Viridiana Aguilar Garcia
“When I went into foster care… that’s when it started to really feel like home. When I turned 21, I didn’t want to get out [of foster care]because they always made it feel like home, even when I was going between different homes… but when I came here and had an actual stable home in foster care — it was like a group home — that’s when it felt like home. When I was living with [my grandparents] in Mexico, my grandpa was always sick so family wasn’t always around. My aunts took care of me, but they were always working so there wasn’t someone always there for me to look up to or to teach me the things I may want to do when I grew up. So when I came here, I started noticing a lot of things, not by someone else but through myself. I like to read a lot so I feel like that’s one thing that really helped and enlightened me to learn about a lot of things that were outside of my world.”
– Viridiana Aguilar Garcia, Client of Gwinnett Legal Aid
Humans of Legal Aid takes its inspiration from the Humans of New York project, by the photographer Brandon Stanton. Brandon’s project started on the streets of New York City, where he approached people and asked them intimate questions about their lives. The resulting photograph and a quoteworthy snippet of the interview were posted online, and over the years, thousands of these portraits of everyday people have been collected.
In our space, we want to offer you a glimpse into the lives of the people affected by our work — our clients, our staff, and our volunteers. We interviewed each of these people with the desire to hear a deeper, fuller story of their lives. People are not just their jobs, and people are not just their issues.
We know that our staff and volunteers greet each day of this work as an opportunity to use their skills to help people, but we also want to know what drives them personally, what makes them proud, and where they call home. We know that our clients often come to us in the midst of crisis and hardship, but we also know that people are not their problems. Our clients’ stories are not only about the prospect of losing housing, but also about the places they consider home. Their stories are not just about the abuse they have suffered, but also about the people they love.
We want to listen to the full story. Yes, there is struggle, but there is also hope and love and pride. And these are the stories to which we want to give a platform, so that these stories can be told alongside the stories of struggle and strife.
Hover over the photos on this page to read an excerpt of each of the interviews.
“I think it matters so much to people because we all have families… either the family we came from or the family we created ourselves… or both. They are just super important parts of our lives. So when things need to happen in the legal system about people’s families, it’s always really important.”
Deborah Johnson, Attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid
I like that it’s more diverse… I’m from a quiet town that’s not really that diverse of a place to be so it was nice to be in a place where people who looked like me and also those who didn’t look like me were actually like owning businesses and you could see them in high up spaces. So like going to court in Fulton County, most judges that I see look like me and that’s not normal everywhere that you go…. And so I think that camaraderie and feeling that you have more options was really helpful for me. So I appreciate that part about living in Atlanta.
Courtney Dixon, Senior Attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid
I feel like I had a sheltered and privileged upbringing. I think when I started working for a nonprofit that provided services to domestic violence survivors and sexual assault survivors… I suddenly realized that people have had horrible things happen to them in their lives. That experience kind of popped my bubble and made me realize the world is not perfect. It’s not all roses and butterflies.
Whitney Stone, Pro Bono Unit Volunteer Coordinator at Atlanta Legal Aid
That’s what I love about it. They didn’t rush me off. They had concern about Chasity. It wasn’t about me. It was about Chasity. They had concern for her and they never dropped it. And it’s been going on and on and it’s still going on… It’s a team thing. I’m just sitting there watching them work together at the table. And everything was on point. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life… We held strong together. That’s what really brought it on in.
– Brenda Turner, Client of DeKalb Legal Aid
I am happiest in the mornings. I love the sunrise. I love waking up before everyone else and just having that quiet part of your morning with a cup of coffee. There’s no such thing as a perfect day but if it can start like that where I can have time to start with some peace and quiet, then that makes me very happy.
Cathy Waddell, Attorney at Cobb Legal Aid
“That’s Judge Flournoy . The judge took [my grandson Sincere] back to his chamber and showed him everything, from his personal bathroom to his personal refrigerator to his view. And he stopped the court — because they were like half way through when they got to me — and he stopped and took the time with Sincere, and said, if it’s okay, I’d like for him to come to the bench with me. And [Sincere] loved it. It was a very emotional day. For Judge Flournoy to stop his work and escort us in the back like that… and one of his bailiffs said, “I don’t remember a time when he stopped court like that”… We have one of these pictures of Judge Flournoy and Sincere on our coffee table. We see it everyday.”
– Marlene Cartwright, Client of Cobb Legal Aid
Lanora Williams & Christopher Jones
“Christopher was a tiny baby, a preemie. He weighed like one pound. He was in the NICU for months, so he has some little issues. The first open heart surgery he had, he was 8 months old. And the hole in his heart would not close, so they went in and repaired that. And he was a sickly baby. He was always in the emergency room. [Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta] Scottish Rite knew my name. They’d say, “Hey, Ms. Williams! What’s going on with Christopher?” So we were there a lot of times. And his cardiologist, one time we were there and I knew there were some other issues going on. And they were like “No, no, he’s fine.” And I was like, “No, he’s not fine. Something is wrong. You need to do an ecogram.” And they were like, “No, no, we don’t need to do an ecogram.” Yes, you’re going to do an ecogram. So they did that and found out he had a leakage in his valve. Everybody has a valve like that, and his would stay open. So then the blood would switch out or just be in his chest and it was leaking, so they had to repair that. That was when he was six. And then he had other issues. He has asthma; he’s had pneumonia for the last four or five years. Every January he’ll have pneumonia, sometimes on his birthday. He fought. I call him my little soldier, and I tell him “You are so blessed. Some people did not make it off that table.” He’s embarrassed of his scar. And I’m like, that’s just your war wound. Those are wounds to show that you fought that war, and you came through it.”
– Ms. Lanora Williams, Client of Atlanta Legal Aid
“Honestly, I feel very accomplished for bringing my family back together. There was a lot of separation for a long time for various reasons, and I think working very hard to not give up on my family was and is something that I look back now and think, thank God. I’m so happy about that. Because we all have our own reasons for cutting folks off and distancing ourselves. And I have my reasons, and sometimes still have reasons. But I look at the positives of trying to bring everyone together, and not minding being that one person who’s kind of like the go-to while everyone works things out. So I look back and now when we have family functions, it’s not awkward. I think above all, my family means a lot to me, and I’m really proud about making sure that we’re all okay collectively, and seeing the ties that bind. And to actually have healthy, prosperous relationships.”
– Toni Bonds, Paralegal and Case Handler at Atlanta Legal Aid
“I remember being 18. I had just left for college and I got a call that my family’s house was foreclosed. Your parents do their best to shield you from what’s going on, for better or for worse, so before I left for college I kind of knew that we were behind, or that something was up with the mortgage, but nothing more than that was really told. And then I got the call, probably like two months into college. Mind you, I’ve moved far away from home, so I’m still trying to adjust with college, and then I find out that I can’t go back home. That option was totally eliminated and it was really sad. But fast forward to now… Part of my learning for this job was doing a bit of background history on the 2008, 2009 housing crisis here and learning about predatory lenders. The lender that my parents used, I found that they had a federal complaint filed against them for racially discriminatory lending practices. So I kind of pulled together pieces and now I work to help people who are in situations that I once found myself in. It’s humbling. It’s also very like “Oh my!” There is purpose in this. It feels like a “what are the odds” type story and in some ways it propels me to think that I’m in the right place at the right time.”
– Stephanie Styles, Paralegal at Atlanta Legal Aid
“We all know we’re humans and we all have feelings, but when you come out of a country that doesn’t have the best reputation, even with your own people, like Arab people, you’re seen as a foreigner. And it’s destructive. So we had to really push ourselves. We had to be the best version, otherwise you’re just one of those Iraqis. I either want to go to law school or into diplomacy. Growing up, I was born into the chaos of the invasion of Iraq. So early on I was growing up in a distorted world — a dystopia essentially. So you know, you’ll have your politicians, your doctors, et cetera masking as heroes of the people, but they were obviously doing some not so politically correct stuff. So I’ve always wanted to help people. So for me to do it either through diplomacy or the legal field would be a great opportunity, and hopefully on an international stage.”
-Nadia Abdulridha, High School Summer Intern at Atlanta Legal Aid
“There are lots of things I’m proud of. I think I was most proud when my boys finally got into college, because when their father died, I felt like I became a statistic of a single black mom, raising boys, and they were going to become statistics. And I think that’s what I’m most proud of. Despite them not having a father… I can’t show them how to be a man, of course, but I can guide them, tell them the characteristics of what I think a man should be. I think I did a pretty good job.”
– Ms. Jamilla Alphonse, Client of Atlanta Legal Aid
“My parents were young parents. They got married in high school and they had 5 kids. I’m the oldest and so they were supportive in the sense of whatever I wanted to do, they pretty much let me do. So whatever I said, they were like, “Oh, okay. Sure! Let’s see what we can find to help her do this. So they were really supportive but they just also didn’t know quite what to do with me. And in school, it was the same way. They didn’t know what to do with me. By the time I was in 5th grade, the teachers were like, “uhhhhhhh.” I’m, you know, 8 years old and I’m in the 5th grade. The teachers were like, “Where are we going with her, what should we do?” And by the time I was in 7th grade, the principal’s proposal was that I go and help the kindergarten class and kinda be like a co-teacher for the kindergarten class. They were afraid to let me go up to the next grade because they thought I wasn’t going to be mature enough otherwise. But I’d be intellectually mature enough and my parents were like, “Why don’t you just let her go and see how she does?” And my principal [said], “Well, I don’t know if that’s going to be a really good plan.” And so my mom immediately was like “Nope, she’s going.” So, it took her driving me around to several schools to finally get a school to say, “Okay, she can start high school.”
– Jacki Payne, Attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid
Phyllis Jackson Smith
“This picture is part of a newspaper article… This one is from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. This is dated 1964. They were honoring the plaintiffs in the 1958 suit. That’s where you had 9 parents who were plaintiffs in Atlanta’s historic 1958 school desegregation suit, getting them to comply with the Brown decision, and as I mentioned, two of those plaintiffs were residents on Herring Road: my father, Leonard Jackson, and her father, Charlie Pierce.”
“Were your fathers politicians?
“No, they were not politicians. They were fathers who wanted a good education for their children, and other children in that neighborhood. And you could definitely say they were community activists. You could say they were activists period. Because what they were doing was going to impact all of the children in the city, not just those of us in Cascade Heights. And back then, trust me, my sister and I could tell you, it took a toll. It was really risk-taking, because that’s when whites would ride by at night and shoot into the houses.”
– Ms. Phyllis Jackson Smith, Client (relative) of Atlanta Legal Aid
“We were interviewing candidates for one of our positions and he asked a question like “What motivates you to get up in the morning and work here?” and I said “Rage”. And everyone just looked at me. And I was like, “About frustrations, about what’s going on, and wanting to help.” Because that’s what fuels me! Reading the paper fills me rage, and it makes me want to come to work, because I know I can do something. And Steve afterwards was like “Rage? Really?” And I was like yeah! What am I going to say? Desire to do good? Yes, of course. But where do I get that desire? Mostly from rage!”