NYU Law Forum examines the role of lawyers and journalists in seeking social justice

Andrea Elliott
Andrea Elliott

New York Times journalist Andrea Elliott discussed her newly published book, Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, at an NYU Law Forum, sponsored by Latham & Watkins, on November 10. Her nonfiction novel follows Dasani, a girl growing up in Brooklyn, where her family deals with homelessness, the challenges of New York City’s education system, and the dysfunction of the child protection system. 

At the event, titled “Invisible Child: Lawyers, Journalists, and Social Justice,” Joshua Goldfein ’93, a staff attorney at the Homeless Rights Project and the Legal Aid Society, joined Elliott in conversation to examine both the potential and the limitations of lawyers and journalists seeking to advance social justice. Goldfein represented Dasani’s family and has brought several class-action lawsuits against New York City on behalf of the homeless. The conversation was moderated by Chris Gottlieb ’97, co-director of NYU Law’s Family Defense Clinic.

Watch the full video of the discussion:

Selected remarks from the discussion:

Andrea Elliott: “I had spent time in many different communities as an outsider. I’d lived for weeks in northern Morocco in a slum where there was no running water. I’d been to a lot of places as a reporter, but I really didn’t understand what it was like in my own city [New York City]—which was one of the richest cities in the world, with the highest concentration of billionaires in the world—what it was like to grow up poor there.” (video 16:02)

Andrea Elliott: “What is it like to struggle every day to get through the labyrinth of systems, which continued to befuddle me for a long time, their acronyms and how they interacted with each other?… These are punitive systems, yet have names which suggest help. So it’s things like ‘Child Protection.’… What Dasani sees these systems as is something she has to live with, and [that] she has to survive. These are acronyms that exist as a map in her mind—which is now at the front of the book—that is a parallel map of the city…. So DHS, Department of Homeless Services, is the Bronx, HRA [Human Resources Administration] is Queens, ACS [Administration for Children’s Services] is Brooklyn. That information was revelatory to me.” (video 16:28) 

Joshua Goldfein ’93: “It’s not that the system has failed. The system is working exactly how it was designed, right? This is the insight of critical race theory. If we are going to dismantle the system and make it work for people, we have to understand how, what it does to people.… Andrea has captured, through Dasani and her siblings and her parents being willing to tell their story, how harmful these systems are to people.” (video 1:03:42) 

Posted January 20, 2022