The Ceremonial Court Room in Brooklyn State Supreme Court, Criminal Term, was recently filled with a glimpse of a bright future. For its 31st year, young interns intent on a career in criminal justice gathered to celebrate the closing ceremony of their six-week-long summer internship in the State Supreme Court, Kings County. Begun by the late Izetta Johnson as a youth empowerment program, it offers both high school and college students a hands-on learning experience.
Izetta Johnson dedicated 35 years to the New York State Unified Court System where she started her own program in 1989, which was originally known as the Summer Youth Employment and Internship Program. As a trainer and manager at the Court’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, she truly dedicated herself to serving the youth of Kings County.
Thanks to Izetta Johnson chairing and co-chairing various events, the Supreme Court implemented “Take Your Child to Work Day”, “Career Day”, “Unity Day”, and “Women’s History Month”. She was also crucial in forming the “Gender Fairness Committee” and “Supreme Court Black History Month Committee”. Ms. Johnson’s legacy continues to spark a relentless nature for serving others within the interns accepted into the program.
Justice Deborah A. Dowling explained how she has seen the progress of her current and former interns, in terms of a confidence boost. The return of former interns further proves the program’s impact and success.
“Certainly, what we try to impart on all our interns is to make them well-rounded, to give them the ability to see that they do have choices and consequences,” said Justice Deborah Dowling. The Izetta Johnson Internship Empowerment Program hosted weekly workshops teaching its interns about American Sign Language (ASL), financial literacy, driving safety and the danger of drunk driving, resume building, networking, etc.
Chelsea James, a college student, commented “We . . . have an essay competition coming up so if a high schooler wins, they win $50 and if a college student wins, they win $100 so it’s really different because other programs don’t do that, so they are giving us transferable skills while letting us get money in return.”
Awards and certificates were distributed for perfect attendance, winners of the mock interview competition, winners of the essay competition, and completion certificates. Nicole Tran, Maria Valdez, and Ashley Valencia were the three winners of the interview competition. While Ashley Valencia and Chelsea James were the respective winners of the essay competition, which was on a topic prompt that could be used for their college applications.
Ms. James stated, “My judge keeps me busy . . . so that I can get a real feel of work.”
Imani Nelson stated, “I will say, I can only speak for my judge, but they (program staff and legal personnel) are personally invested in you. This program is really beneficial for people who … want to go into the field. They make sure you are leaving . . . with connections.”
Jennifer Joly earned the titles of “Supreme Court Kings County Exceptional Summer Youth Worker,” “Mistress of Ceremony,” and IJIEP Intern. As an intern who started in 2017, she said, “The program did really well! As long as we have people taking something away from here, it’s doing great. It’s needed honestly. College students, like myself, never thought that they’d be sitting here in a court other than for criminal reasons or as a job. They have us here learning about financial literacy. It’s faring really well.”
Justice Deborah Dowling stated “one of the things that are most difficult this year is because of covid, we had to limit the number of students we had because our departments, as well as judges, are concerned with safety. With young people coming in, you don’t know if they’re vaccinated or not but I could see the trepidation.” However, she thanked her supervising judge who has been fantastic with the youth in the local community.
As the program hosted its closing ceremony, Hon. Deborah Dowling said, “If you have an open mind and an open heart to learn, then this is the place for you because you will have the opportunity to grow mentally and to look to a component. You will have social interactions that you might not have had on any other level. It will open your eyes to the world, and you will see that anything is possible from speaking to other people in the system, you will learn a lot.”