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Special Highlight

Board Highlight: Dr. Shanequa Smith

Written by Legal Aid WV


Dr. Shanequa Smith joined the Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) Board of Directors in 2018, as a result of the partnership between LAWV and Good News Mountaineer Garage, where Dr. Smith was a Board member at the time. She is not an attorney; she is an appointed constituent member of the Board, whose insight into the communities LAWV serves is invaluable.

Since joining, Dr. Smith has made it her mission to further LAWV’s impact on communities that desperately need help but may not recognize what LAWV services can do. She also points out that LAWV itself wasn’t speaking to everyone’s needs in their outreach.

“When I started as a Board member, I saw Legal Aid as good-hearted people that couldn’t really help many who need it,” she explains. “What I learned as a Board member is what Legal Aid CAN do, and I think a big piece of that is preventative work, which relates to what I try to do as a restorative practitioner.”

Dr. Smith is originally from Harlem, NY, but followed family to West Virginia 23 years ago. She says the similarities between the two places might surprise people. In West Virginia, just like New York, she saw people, especially those in the Black community, struggling with systematic oppression.

“No matter what, even if you move to a different zip code, if you don’t change socioeconomic status, things don’t really change,” says Dr. Smith.

She believes her work implementing preventative action and restorative practices can go a long way to address those challenges.

“I work in the community trying to create and model different approaches to heal from situations that overwhelm us in life. My work as a restorative practitioner centers around joy, education, and connecting people to their desired opportunities. Through my lived experiences and education, I realize the element of helping people build, is assisting them to rebuild their self-efficacy and self-agency, which is missing in a lot of social efforts.”

She quotes criminal law as an example. LAWV does not do criminal law, as those being charged with a crime have a right to an attorney—a public defender. She says many people think Legal Aid is the same as a public defender, but when they come to Legal Aid for help, it’s too late.

“Frederick Douglass said ‘It’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men.’ If people had prior knowledge of legal issues, they probably wouldn’t get into those situations. Wouldn’t it be great if people could say, ‘Hey, I know Legal Aid does that’ before they even get to certain issues?”

One aspect of her Board membership and relationship with LAWV Dr. Smith praises is outreach.

“I think you have to be where people are,” she says. “Legal Aid tries to do that. I see them as WESTSIDE Together meetings, in the schools, at community events. It’s important to spread the word about what Legal Aid does, like mental health advocacy or work with grandparents, because I don’t think a lot of people actually know about that.”

Dr. Smith does her own form of outreach to her communities, and her experience with Legal Aid builds a piece of that. Through her practice and community involvement on Charleston’s West Side, volunteering at Mary C. Snow Elementary and Capital High schools, and her studies, she sees opportunities to share respect, honor, and resources to many.

“What gives me joy is to be a light to someone else,” she says. “I live in communities where there’s a lot of working poor, pain, and generational trauma. These are good people. I want to help someone—really help someone, not in the way we think we should be. Some people don’t even think they deserve light because they’ve never had it. Anytime I get closer to helping people feel good about themselves and their community, I’m living.”

Board members Dr. Shanequa Smith and Andy Nason
Dr. Shanequa Smith and Board Chair Andy Nason at Legal Aid’s Charleston office

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