Program Served: AmeriCorps - 2006-2008; Biloxi, MS; Jackson, MS | Equal Justice Works
Hometown: Jackson, MS
Alma Mater: College of Charleston
Currently: Jackson, MS; Attorney General’s Office - Special Assistant Attorney General
Crystal Utley returned to her home state of Mississippi as an AmeriCorps Attorney after Hurricane Katrina to put her legal skills to work. She served with Equal Justice Works in 2006 and 2007 with the Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi, MS.
While with Equal Justice Works, Utley managed Hurricane Katrina legal aid and pro bono for the state of Mississippi, including volunteer recruitment and training, community outreach and legal clinics, as well as case management. Utley represented Katrina survivors with urgent disaster-related legal problems as well as representing housing nonprofits on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“It was the best feeling when you knew someone was going to be evicted from their FEMA trailer that day, and we were able to stop it and help them from being homeless and they could stand there and thank us,” said Utley.
After her AmeriCorps term, Utley stayed in Biloxi and continued working for the Mississippi Center for Justice where she recruited and managed over 200 national and local pro bono attorneys, in addition to over 100 law students, per year, to address Hurricane Katrina-related legal needs and other social justice issues, such as home repair fraud.
“The most rewarding part of the whole experience in general was to be able to help a very resilient people,” said Utley. “They were determined to stay in their communities and recover despite many odds against them, and that was humbling.”
Utley currently works as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office. “I made a large amount of connections with the government, the American Bar Association, and multiple agencies in my role with AmeriCorps and the Mississippi Center for Justice,” said Utley. “Coming on board with AmeriCorps it was more than just a door opening, it was on a much greater scale. I was able to accomplish whatever I put my mind to.”
Equal Justice Works wasn’t in Mississippi before Hurricane Katrina, but the organization is still there today. “I was given a big leadership opportunity that I would not have otherwise had, and we were able to have a real impact on the coast. We really set a standard, and it motivates me to keep doing things at that level.”