Wilhelm J. Joseph Jr.
Maryland Legal Aid
Wilhelm J. Joseph was a young immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago when he attended a small historically Black college/university in the rural town of Bena, Mississippi in the mid-1960s. What he saw there would change his life.
“Being in the middle of the American Apartheid system, where people from all walks of life, including those in high official offices, condoned racial discrimination, racism and violent brutality toward black people compelled me to pursue a career in law,” he said.
Today, he still identifies the principal of equal justice as a threatened fundamental pillar of American democracy. He has worked for more than 25 years at Maryland Legal Aid, which provides free civil legal services to people who are low-income in cases like fighting unlawful evictions, advocating for improvement of substandard housing, dealing with debt and acquiring needed health care.
Joseph said it is challenging to maximize meaningful progress, especially for members of society who lack the funds for attorneys of their choice.
“Lawyers, advocates, and other officials of the court play an essential role in securing, protecting and strengthening this vital pillar of democracy, which is under attack from many directions,” Joseph said. “Repelling those attacks is the most urgent challenge facing lawyers today.”
Those challenges have been magnified during the pandemic.
“As providers of an essential service, we are being called upon to navigate and balance the conflicting and competing interests of clients and the public on the one hand, and interests that are personal, or otherwise private on the other.”