Yoana Tchouklevais is joining EJS as our 2018-2020 Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellow – a fellowship honoring the first African American woman to serve on the federal bench.
The Motley Fellowship is currently funded by a generous gift from Elizabeth J. Cabraser. EJS established the Fellowship in 2006 to nurture the talents of a new generation of progressive lawyers to transform anti-discrimination law and policy.
Yoana is an attorney, activist, and restorative justice organizer devoted to supporting the efforts of local communities of color to find collective healing from the wounds of the past and collective liberation from the oppressive forces of the present. She is a graduate of Berkeley Law and was previously a litigation fellow with ACLU of Northern California and a clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California.
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Yoana immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 15. During her college and post-college years, she worked on a number of survivor-led international human rights projects. She started a bakery with widows and orphans from the genocide in Rwanda, helped build a memorial in Northern Uganda, and advocated for Rohingya refugee children in Malaysia. She received a B.A. from the University of Chicago, as well as an award for her writings challenging the NGO industrial complex in post-genocide Rwanda.
Seeking to understand how the unaddressed legacies of slavery and settler colonialism continue to cause human rights violations here in the US, Yoana decided to pursue a law degree at UC Berkeley School of Law. There she co-founded two legal projects, chaired a number of student organizations, including the Restorative Justice Committee and the National Lawyers’ Guild Bay Area Student Chapter, and served as an editor on the California Law Review. The Post-Conviction Advocacy Project, one of the projects she founded, trains law students to represent lifers in parole hearings and has helped dozens of lifers regain their freedom after decades behind bars.
As a barred attorney, Yoana set out to implement California’s Fair Sentencing for Youth Act and ensure that individuals sentenced to juvenile life without parole had access to counsel and a chance at re-sentencing. Yoana has received a number of awards, including the 2012 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, the 2015 Rights and Leadership Award, and the 2016 Unsung Hero Award.