Aspiring for Justice for People Who Can’t Speak for Themselves

Kelly Li

Article by Kelly Li Featured Author


Study harder, work harder, do more  — these were the expectations of my Tiger parents as I navigated grade school with English as my second language. I can vividly remember my peers laughing and playing hopscotch during second grade recess while I was sequestered inside struggling through multiplication worksheets. This gap defined my education early on, and younger me blamed it on my parents, my race, and how the intersection of the two put me behind at such a young age in life.

To this day, I still hear my parents’ voices in the back of my head scolding me to study harder. For them, school was placed on the back burner as they worked on family farms in China to put food on the table, harvesting crops under the hot sun. Education was never an option for them; only now does it make sense why mine was so important.

As I matured, I began to see disadvantages my family faced. With no formal education and major language barriers, I watched my family fall victim to racial discrimination. On a typical Friday night helping my parents at our family restaurant, I watched undercover Alcoholic Beverage Control agents frame my parents for selling a Bud Light to a minor. I stood silently as they handcuffed my father, pushing his head against a table, telling him he would be chastised if he tried to speak to ask what was happening. Although security cameras clearly captured the officer handing the bottle to a minor himself, they insisted my parents were responsible for the transaction. My parents weren’t fluent enough to speak up for themselves and didn’t have the legal knowledge to fight back. I think back on how confused, afraid, and helpless we were. Even with proof that should have exonerated him, it wasn’t enough.

Afterwards, my life became a series of Google searches about Mississippi law and precedent in an attempt to understand the charges and look for ways to help my father in court. That year, my passion for law, especially impacting minorities, grew exponentially, and I knew without a doubt I aspired to be a voice for others who can’t speak up for themselves.

When you look at the scales of justice, theoretically, the mechanism represents a mathematical equation of equilibrium that seeks to restore balance and justice to society. The scale does not account for racial biases and disparities that pervade our legal system and hinder us from truly attaining equality. When I think back at the parallels in emotion I felt in elementary school and on the day my dad was taken away, a fire lights up inside me. Knowing and living this reality is a daily reminder of why the fight for justice for people of color is important and what I plan to commit my time to doing after law school. My father needed someone who understood our struggles, but I didn’t have the legal knowledge then. Soon, I will be able to help someone else’s loved one.

Kelly Li is a 1L at University of Mississippi School of Law.