Law School Grad Helps Youth through Sports, Court and Nonprofit

Posted April 30, 2024, 11:35AM

If there is a theme in the life of Darius Stephens-York, it is helping youth. For Stephens-York, who will graduate from the School of Law at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) on May 4, helping young people has manifested in several ways. 

Stephens-York was raised in Laurens, South Carolina, a small city (population 9,100 in the 2010 census) which contains cow pastures and plenty of space between homes. He had an extended family in Laurens which worked to his benefit. 

“Even when you make bad decisions, there is someone around to pass along the word and keep you on the right path,” Stephens-York said. “It made me, socially and morally, the type of person I am.” 

His parents were both in helping professions; his mother a housing coordinator for the state department of disabilities and special needs, his father a middle school guidance counselor. 

Stephens-York grew up studying and playing basketball. He started playing informally at age six or seven, then joined his middle school team in 8th grade and played varsity basketball for three years in high school. 

He enrolled at the University of South Carolina in Columbia where in 2021 he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He immediately applied to NCCU and attended the performance-based admissions program at the law school, a two-week program that helps both the university and prospective students figure out if they will be a success. 

During summer break between his first and second year of law school, Stephens-York was sitting around with three of his best friends. “We were thinking about our experiences as younger people growing up in the community and not having positive influences,” he said. 

The four decided to start a nonprofit called The Haven Newberry. The summer program offers conflict resolution, tutoring and social support to middle and high school students. 

Stephens-York’s role was on the administrative side; planning events, coordinating lectures and finding mentors. 

Coaching and Clients 

The first two years of law school tend to be extremely challenging, with courses that are all tested on the bar exam. Third year eases up a bit with more bar review or elective courses. 

With a bit more time, Stephens-York began volunteering as an assistant coach of the varsity basketball team at Riverside High School in Durham, North Carolina. He spends about 15 hours per week helping the team train, sometimes starting as early as 7:30 a.m.  

“We call it the Breakfast Club,” he said. 

During his third year of law school, Stephens-York served as a student-attorney for the NCCU Juvenile Law Clinic. The Clinic is assigned cases from the Durham County Public Defender’s Office. Under the supervision of adjunct professor Tenika Hall, he has represented minors in court who have been accused of drug possession, motor vehicle theft and homicide – although the homicide case was transferred to a different court before it went to trial. 

The challenges of being a student-attorney are not necessarily of the legal variety.  

“Even if it’s a simple case, the kids probably have some issue to work through, a home issue or personal issue,” Stephens-York said. “Helping the children understand what is the realistic solution to their (legal) issues. It can be hard to tell them the consequences. Keeping yourself emotionally connected but disconnected enough so you don’t hurt yourself in the process.” 

Stephens-York says that the young people he has represented – who are mostly Black – can benefit from having a Black male attorney. “It really opens their eyes to what’s possible,” he said. 

Stephens-York plans to take the bar exam at the end of July, with results expected in October. He has a position lined up in Columbia with a general practice law firm. 

Incidentally, it was through coaching basketball that he gained the position. In Spring 2022, Stephens-York was coaching a travel basketball team, and someone introduced him to a lawyer, who was also a graduate of the NCCU School of Law. The alum offered him a summer internship and later a job. 

As a lawyer, he plans to continue working with young people by incorporating juvenile defense into his work. 

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