Last month, by a 4–1 margin, the Carlsbad City Council voted to establish a commission to improve police-community relations. It was a watershed moment for Keyrollos Ibrahim. The Carlsbad Equality Coalition, a grassroots nonprofit he co-founded in his hometown on Southern California’s coastline, had been working on the pivotal reform initiative since its inception two years ago.
“In the wake of George Floyd's murder, I saw an unprecedented level of interest in civic engagement from Carlsbad’s mostly affluent, white population,” Ibrahim says. “Along with two close friends, I launched the Carlsbad Equality Coalition to capitalize on that interest and mobilize the fight for equity and justice locally. For me and so many others, coming together in this way has helped us regain some of the sense of security we lost after watching so many violent attacks on our communities.”
Ibrahim traces his activist roots to his upbringing as the son of immigrants who escaped persecution as Coptic Christians in Egypt. “My parents told me and my siblings about their struggles so we would appreciate the freedoms we have here in the United States,” he explains. “But their stories didn’t always translate to our lived experience. My family had to endure three interviews in order to move into our California neighborhood. Then, in the wake of 9/11, I was assaulted by classmates on my way home from school. And I was just 11 years old when I had my first of multiple experiences as a victim of racial profiling by the police.”
Trying to make sense of these experiences, Ibrahim took comfort in the nation’s history of activism by, and on behalf of, marginalized individuals and communities. As a college student, he was among the protestors in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. “Watching brilliant activists meet massive state violence with peaceful resistance changed my life, and I came home with an even greater belief in the good that civic engagement can accomplish,” Ibrahim says. With that outlook, he took the next steps on his professional path, first as a paralegal in New York City and then as a student at St. John’s Law.
“I’m very grateful to St. John's for providing the education and opportunities I need to hone my skills and be the best advocate I can be,” Ibrahim shares. “Every single class I’ve taken in law school comes into play in my work for the Carlsbad Equality Coalition. When I enter a negotiation, I can hear Professor Bernbaum asking me how I can build a ‘golden bridge’ to turn an adversary into a partner. Whenever I’m interviewing an official about how their department operates, I use the examination skills I learned in Trial Advocacy. Most importantly, each time I put pen to paper, I ask myself: ‘how will this wording affect subsequent litigation?’ And there are countless other examples.”
On the career path ahead, Ibrahim plans to engage his experience, knowledge, and skills in Family Law practice. He will also continue to uplift his hometown community, and others. “With 17 years of grassroots activism under my belt, I have no delusions about just how much work there is left to do to make our nation's promise of freedom consistent with every single person's experience of that freedom,” he says. “But I firmly believe we can get there. A small group of individuals can have an outsized impact on the local level. The Carlsbad Equality Coalition and organizations like it nationwide are here to empower those changemakers and to promote the voices of the next generation of advocates.”