The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law: Work Worth Doing

By Reginald Warren

For the fifth year, Vanguard has partnered with the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute to fund Comunicadores for the Future, a paid internship program that supports the next generation of Latinx communicators. Reginald Warren is one of the program’s 2021 interns.

As an undergrad studying political science and international affairs at The George Washington University who is planning to attend law school, I jumped at the opportunity to intern with a legal civil rights advocacy organization.

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law advocates for the rights, equality and inclusion of those with mental disabilities. Bazelon’s extensive policy and litigation work includes instrumental contributions to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and roles in landmark Supreme Court cases such as Olmstead v. L.C.

In my role as a strategic communications intern at the Bazelon Center my responsibilities have included researching, updating and organizing an online database of the court cases Bazelon has litigated and the amicus briefs it has filed over nearly 50 years. I also have worked to draft social media posts, press releases and newsletters for updates on litigation or noting when a staff member was quoted in the media.

I started with the Bazelon Center in June, just as they were preparing to host their first large event, so the intern team hit the ground running. The event, Re-imagining Inclusion, Equity, and Opportunity in Schools: A Conversation & Call to Action, drew together experts, teachers and students in the fields of mental health and education. It highlighted the disproportionate segregation, punishment and policing of students with disabilities, and the importance of providing resources and opportunities instead.

I prepared for the event by helping to draft social media posts and graphics that highlighted the speakers, designing outreach newsletters, and sending personalized emails to get the word out. The intern team also helped prepare and test the technical aspects of the event; once it was underway, we monitored the live Zoom and YouTube chats for questions and additional resources.

The education event was a massive success, well exceeding anticipated attendance numbers and drawing new attention to the Center’s work. The interns have been working on follow-up outreach and creating an education section on Bazelon’s website to keep people engaged with the fight for disability rights in this field.

The most important part of fulfilling work is the impact it has on people’s lives. Earlier this summer the Bazelon Center received a letter from an individual with a disability who wanted to thank the organization for its work. This person, whose disability prevents them from working, sent a monetary donation and emotional words of both struggle and gratitude. When pursuing an internship or a job there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that I am contributing to something I believe in, and there is no better work than helping those who have long endured bias and discrimination.

By allowing me to work within the legal field while also advocating for the civil rights of the disabled, the Cisneros Institute, Vanguard Communications, and the Bazelon Center have provided me with key insights into the world I hope to build a career in. When a stranger sends a letter of support that brings you to tears, you know you are doing work worth doing.