May 3, 2016

Exchanges Link Cultures and Ideas

In-between demanding courses and rigorous LSAT preparatory work, aspiring lawyers often wonder what it really takes to become the cream of the crop in their chosen field. If you ask Leah Goodridge, a 2003 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program alumna and non-profit lawyer, she’ll tell you, “I have to think on my feet every day.” She learned how to adapt to situations quickly because of her exchange, noting that “those experiences taught me to be comfortable with the unexpected.” Leah is currently working as a supervising attorney at MFY Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides free legal assistance to residents of New York City on a wide range of civil legal issues, prioritizing services to vulnerable and underserved populations, while simultaneously working to end the root causes of inequities through impact litigation, law reform and policy advocacy.
In 2003, Leah Goodridge received a Gilman Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford. At Oxford, she studied women in literature, the history of the English language, and the British influence on Barbados, which was a particularly important subject, given her family’s heritage. During her time in the United Kingdom, she wrote and directed a play, Linked, which focused on the global impact of HIV. Inspired by the experience, for her Gilman Follow-on Service Project, she wrote and directed another play, Generations, to audiences about the awareness of the political and cultural background of Barbados. 


May 2016 International Exchange Alumna of the Month, Leah Goodridge (center, in red) with colleagues
As a senior, Leah received the Compton Mentor Fellowship, which provided funding to develop a sex education seminar series for young girls in the Dominican Republic. She selected the Dominican Republic because she knew that there was a “great need for such a program and knew that the $35,000 grant would go a long way thereHIV is [a] killer of adolescent girls in the Dominican Republic and there is a lack of programs and resources for young girls.” This initiative evolved into a nonprofit organization, Proyecto LIDER, which expanded the realm of topics for the seminars to address not only reproductive health, but women in arts and technology. Although she did not have much direction upon arrival in the Dominican Republic, Leah was adamant about making a difference through her project by finding a venue, reaching out to her target audience, and providing sex education classes to young women. While building Proyecto LIDER, Leah contacted the Gilman Program to find other Gilman Scholars in the Dominican Republic. The Gilman team connected her with Felicia Montgomery, who later became a board member of Proyecto LIDER. Under Leah’s guidance and leadership, the project was so effective that it expanded into a nonprofit organization and she served as the Executive Director of from 2004-2009.
Leah returned to the U.S. and received her Juris Doctor from UCLA School of Law and went on to establish the Community Economic Development Project at Medgar Evers College (CUNY) for Adult and Continuing Education and was a lead instructor for the project. The program provides evening classes on entrepreneurship such as corporate structure, community-building, writing a business plan and grant-writing, and helps entrepreneurs to start new nonprofit or for-profit ventures in low-income communities. Her students have gone on to start ventures across the globe from Brooklyn to Haiti. Even beyond Proyecto LIDER and the Community Economic Development Project, Leah uses her legal background to assist underserved populations in New York City. From 2012-2014, she worked as a Staff Attorney in the Housing Unit at CAMBA Legal Services, a nonprofit agency that provides services that connect people with opportunities to enhance their quality of life, including housing and legal services. From 2014-2016, she worked as a Housing Staff Attorney at the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit that serves the city’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal services, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing.
All of Leah’s projects—from her play about the history and culture of Barbados to Proyecto LIDERhighlight her desire to create links between the U.S. and other countries. Her current work assisting underserved and vulnerable members of the New York City community exhibit her drive to increase mutual understanding between these communities and the institutions they interact with.