John Deere supports LEAP interns to help farmers keep their land

John Deere supports LEAP interns to help farmers keep their land

 October 19, 2023

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John Deere, in partnership with the National Black Growers Council (NBGC) and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), established the LEAP (Legislation, Education, Advocacy and Production Systems) coalition in 2020 to help eliminate barriers created by heirs’ property and provide resources to advance the lives and livelihoods of Black farmers. LEAP is dedicated to ensuring the long-term sustainability of less than 5 million acres of land currently owned or farmed by Black farmers. 

So how did Charee Woodard and four of her fellow legal interns spend their summer internship? By helping farm families retain their land.

A passion for public interest work 

Charee, a student at the Southern University Law Center, said she chose to become a LEAP Coalition intern because she has a passion for public interest work and wanted to help families overcome heirs’ property issues.

“Sometimes advocacy can be inviting your client into your office, closing the door and having a candid conversation where they can tell you, ‘This is what I’m battling with, this is my issue,’ and then you presenting them with a solution,” explained Charee. “It’s that behind-the-scenes advocacy that really had a huge impact on my experience.”

Personal interactions with families

Khalil Cardwell, who is also a Southern University Law Center student, said it was the personal interactions with the families, including visiting their farms, that made the experience impactful.

“Meeting the families, seeing their differences and backgrounds, seeing the property they own and how property was in their family’s name for generations, and we had the rewarding feeling of helping them get the property in their name, so they can retain it,” said Khalil.

A rewarding internship experience

2023 is the third year the LEAP Coalition has helped provide legal interns who work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Center for Heirs Property Preservation to support families at risk of losing their land.

"I decided this would be a good fit for me," shares Southern University Law Center Leap Intern, Dayleen Chery. "It set the path to get experience with a corporate organization, working with public interest and bringing all these organizations together to break down barriers for black farm workers." 

"The whole internship was really rewarding for me. Being able to help workers with the federation was really nice, but we had the opportunity of traveling throughout the southern states, and we hosted state planning clinics, we helped do intakes to draft wheels for farm workers, and we were also able to go and visit members farm."

Bridging the gap of the legal world 

Southern University Law Center LEAP Intern, Khyla Morgan, said: "Being able to bridge the gap between the legal world and being a land owner and understanding what Heirs' Property truly is. So being able to break down the law in layman's terms, so they can really understand it, so they can relay the information to other family members or just help themselves with their own notes."

Heirs’ property is land jointly owned by descendants of someone who didn’t leave a legal will, thereby leaving them without a clear title. The land is passed to surviving family members by way of fractional ownership—meaning any heir can divide or sell the land. This is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black landowners.

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