Students, alumni and public interest lawyers discussed ways to engage communities in promoting justice at the fourth annual Shaping Justice conference Feb. 7 at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, a lawyer, poet, memoirist and teacher, delivered the keynote address.

Reginald Dwayne Betts
Reginald Dwayne Betts

Betts served time in prison as a youth before graduating from Yale Law School in 2016. He has also published three collections of poetry. He talked about how his experience being incarcerated influenced his legal studies and his art.

Three UVA Law alumni were honored for their work in public service at the conference, titled “Shaping Justice by Engaging Communities.”

Chris Kavanaugh ’06, assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville, received the Shaping Justice Award for Extraordinary Achievement, while Claire Blumenson ’11 and Chioma Chukwu ’12 received Shaping Justice Rising Star Awards. Blumenson, who was unable to attend, is executive director and co-founder of the School Justice Project in Washington, D.C. Chukwu is senior executive counselor at the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Panels focused on a range of issues, including disability rights, transgender rights, immigrant rights and environmental justice, the criminalization of sex work and reproductive rights. A panel on mass incarceration featured restorative justice advocates, scholars and a representative from a public defender’s office.

The conference was sponsored by UVA Law’s Program in Law and Public Service, the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center, the student-run Public Interest Law Association and numerous other student organizations.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.