Darrius Woods first became aware of the need for affordable housing in many American cities during a two-year stint with Teach for America before law school. Woods taught kindergarten in an Atlanta elementary school, and he made a practice of visiting the homes of his students who exhibited behavioral problems to get a better idea of the challenges they faced. “I got to this kid’s apartment, and every building in his complex was burned down but his,” he said. “I could see drug dealers and prostitutes from his door. He had to see this every day. When I brought him home, he asked if he could stay with me.”
The haunting sight of the burned-out apartment complex where his student lived cemented Woods’ decision to prepare for a career practicing law in the public interest. His experience with Teach for America also defined Woods’ interest in access to affordable housing and quality education. “I expected my kids to be poor,” he recalled, “but the reality of where that kid lived still shocked me.”
Woods chose Vanderbilt after attending an Admitted Students Weekend. “The people here were really friendly, and professors are accessible,” he said. “I’ve loved my classes.” He spent the summer after his 1L year working with the nonprofit Bronx Defenders in New York, where he gained experience in witness preparation, drafting motions, client interviewing, and trial preparation.
As a 2L active in Law Students for Social Justice, Woods conceived of, organized and led a pro bono spring break trip to New Orleans. He worked with student organizations and faculty affiliated with the George Barrett Social Justice Program to secure funding to cover transportation and lodging costs for 16 students, who spent a week volunteering with the nonprofit Orleans Public Defenders, the New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. “We had 1Ls working on a motions to suppress evidence,” Woods said. “People had an amazing experience.” The VLS students also visited a successful charter school, met with attorneys at the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial and Economic Justice, and were hosted for lunch by Lee Adler (BA’85), a partner at Phelps Dunbar in New Orleans.
Woods spent summer 2016 as a legal intern in the Washington, D.C., offices of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that addresses voter protection and voting rights, education and the “overcriminalization of youth.” He received a stipend from the George Barrett Social Justice Program to support his work there, where he worked on issues ranging from challenging discriminatory “voter protection” laws to community organizing against police brutality and also included drafting legal arguments regarding school takeovers and closures, and advocating for the rights of formerly incarcerated people in Virginia.