A four-time national award-winning lawyer, mediator, advocate, and lecturer with over 20 years of experience, Todd Belcore is a change agent serving communities in Illinois. He is the founder of a nonprofit focused on using policy, legal and technical assistance to disrupt systems of injustice. Belcore uses his resources to help people. Aside from his nonprofit, he created a software start-up to provide people with the tools to overcome their situations. He believes his work in social justice is making a difference. Here, he explains how.
When did you know that you were interested in law?
I didn’t know I was interested in law until I was in my second year of college. I actually grew up wanting to be a doctor, believe it or not. That changed dramatically when I started engaging in grassroots organizing, movement building and taking on significant leadership roles at the University of Michigan such as the Political Action Chair, the Economic Empowerment Chair and the 3rd Vice President of University of Michigan’s chapter of the NAACP. In those capacities, I was continually confronted with scenarios that would’ve been far easier to navigate had we had a lawyer present. Also, as I became a better student of history and movements. I became more intimately aware of the heroic human rights work Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall undertook. Inspired by both the glaring need for more lawyers “for the people” and the incredible mark lawyers can make on society, I decided to pursue law instead of medicine.
What has been your greatest success in your career?
The greatest success in my career? That’s a tough one. I’m definitely grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to 1) successfully advocate to create or change 18 policies and practices that provide millions of men, women, and youth with greater access to justice and opportunity; 2) become the founding partner for the software, SOLVE, that uses technology to give people all the resources and opportunities they need to overcome poverty; 3) provide the legal assistance necessary to help over 1,000 people overcome barriers to basic necessities like jobs and housing because of their past mistakes; and 4) have nearly 20 national and local organizations, like the White House and the American Bar Association, to see fit to honor me for my work.
But, as grateful as I am that God put me in a position to be of service in those ways, I think the success I’m most grateful for is the fact that God decided to bless a poor kid like me to be in a position to access the opportunities and avoid sufficient pitfalls to make my mother proud. Recently, my mother Laura Walker told me how for most of her life she has been known as “one [her] siblings’ sisters”; now, it makes her smile to be known as “Todd’s mom.”
Why do you feel that it is important to have minority representation in your field?
While it is important to have minority representation in every field, I feel that it is particularly important to have minority representation in the legal profession. The law protects the sanctity and integrity of democracy. The law only truly reflects the will of the people when all the voices of the people are represented. That’s why I spend a good deal of time and energy recruiting students of all ages, teenagers to lifelong learners, to become attorneys and join me in the fight to bring more justice to the lives and laws touched by this noble profession.
What is Social Change and what is your role there?
Social Change is a national non-profit committed to liberation and disrupting systems via policy, legal and technical assistance, art and film. I co-founded Social Change and serve as its Executive Director. As Executive Director, no two days are the same. One day I’ll be testifying in a legislative committee before Senators before I go on to spend time trying to convince actors, musicians and others who are outspoken on matters relating to justice and economic equity to Social Change via our @ChiSocialChange page on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The day after I might find myself drafting legislation on the bus on my way to a community gathering where I’ll join a room full of intergenerational leaders in discussing concerns and reform ideas. The problems that impact our nation come in all shapes and sizes; that’s why I formed a non-profit that would have the organizational agility necessary to respond accordingly.
What are you tasked with as SOLVE’s social change director?
SOLVE is a software start-up that places all the tools and resources people need to get out of poverty and become financially independent in the palm of their hand. I’m a founding partner with SOLVE and I’m tasked with working with community members, religious organizations, non-profits, businesses, governments and other entities to continue to build out the software so it continues to add the dimensions necessary to dynamically change lives and track the impact made.
What advice do you have for young people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
My first advice is to aspire. Dream as big as possible. Once you do that, create a plan to make that dream a reality and execute it. My second piece of advice: you have to believe in yourself. No matter what, when you make devastating mistakes, when it seems impossible to attain your goal when you want to quit, you have to believe in yourself and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. In time, your faith will be rewarded. I’m living proof of that.
What do you think is the future of social justice reform?
I think the future of social justice reform is a bright. I don’t just say that because I’m a hope and people-loving optimist. Although, I am. I say that because, at its most basic, furthering social justice is the best way to act out the beliefs upon which this country was founded. There’s no better way to prove we mean it when we say “We hold all these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” than to fight to eradicate inequality. There’s no better way to prove that we believe in the pledge of allegiance than to take the concrete steps necessary to truly ensure that we live in a society where “liberty and justice for all” is a ‘self-evident truth.’