5 AVLF Attorneys Have This One Thing in Common

ASHLEIGH STARNES | SEPTEMBER 25, 2019


Five attorneys on our Safe and Stable Homes team have a background in education. Here’s why.

For many attorneys, the path is clear: the Bachelor’s, the law degree, the Bar Exam, the practice.

But five AVLF attorneys took a detour – a detour that provided them with a unique vantage point on the importance of equal access to justice.

Ayanna Jones-Lightsy, Crystal Redd, Lauren Washington, Pierce Hand IV, and Darrius Woods were educators at some point before joining us at AVLF.

But what made them switch to the legal profession?

Her students were facing poverty, illness, violence, and other traumatizing circumstances that drove Lauren to do something more.


“I saw the law as another tool in my toolbox to have an impact on a larger group of students,” said Staff Attorney Crystal Redd. “I wanted to use all of my tools to ensure that students can focus on their education when they arrive to school each day (as opposed to issues with housing instability, homelessness, hunger, special education needs, criminal issues with family members, and so on).”

Standing with Our Neighbors Staff Attorney Lauren Washington was a writing teacher before she became an attorney. When reviewing her students’ writing assignments, Lauren noticed something that would change her perspective: her students were writing about the hardships they faced at home.

Her students were facing extreme poverty, illness, violence, and other traumatizing circumstances that drove Lauren to do something more.

“I went to law school to get the equipment I needed to make substantial and structural change for our students.”


“How was I supposed to make my students care about the proper usage of commas and conjunctions when their absolute basic needs are not being met?” Lauren said. “While I worked my hardest to be the teacher that they deserved, I recognized that more needed to be done for our babies. I went to law school to get the equipment I needed to make substantial and structural change for our students.”

Our two newest Standing with our Neighbors staff attorneys, Pierce Hand IV and Darrius Woods, also have a background in education. Pierce is taking over the previous position of Ayanna Jones-Lightsy, AVLF’s fifth educator-turned-attorney, who is now Co-Director of our Safe and Stable Homes Project.

When you work closely with students, it’s apparent that access to justice can completely transform a child’s life. That’s why we’re working in Atlanta schools to bring safety and stability to families in the neighborhood. Our intimate partner abuse team is providing resources through our new mobile advocacy project. Our housing staff are fighting illegal evictions in the neighborhood and providing emergency assistance to families in crisis.

“[The effects of the affordable housing crisis] reverberate through our schools,” Lauren said. “It affects our teachers who are dealing with distracted and disappearing students, principals who have to manage the mass migration of students due to housing instability, parents who must manage the stress of one’s housing being in jeopardy, and most importantly, our students who cannot possibly be expected to break the cycle when they do not have a stable home to return to.”

And with their law degrees, our attorneys are inspiring the fight for equal justice.


Learn more about our staff.


Ashleigh Starnes

Communications Manager

As AVLF’s Communications Manager, Ashleigh develops strategy, design, and content for AVLF’s digital and print communications. She’s deeply committed to sharing resources and education with her community at large – and makes it her mission to support AVLF’s programs and outreach in all they do.

Ashleigh is an Atlanta native. Before joining AVLF, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey. Ashleigh holds a Bachelor’s in English and Linguistics from the University of Georgia. She is also a performance artist, and can occasionally be seen performing movement pieces, poetry, and combinations of the two around Atlanta and beyond.

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