Showing Christ’s Love to the Underrepresented
Drew Willey had his future mapped out in front of him. The Arlington, Texas, native graduated from University of Texas in Austin with a master’s in accounting in 2010. He secured a position as an accountant at an oil and gas company. He was attending law school in order to be a corporate tax attorney “making big dollars.” And then he met Marvin.
Drew received a We Raise Foundation Emerging Leader grant for his Houston-based nonprofit organization Restoring Justice, which provides legal representation and social services for people who cannot afford legal counsel. It’s a great fit for Drew, who values We Raise’s focus on working at the intersection of poverty, violence, and inequality. “With We Raise, I felt like I had found a place where I could totally be supported in my mindset of showing Christ’s love while working within a broken system,” he says. “It’s such a breath of fresh air.”
His life changed while interning with the Texas Innocence Network during law school. His job: filling out a clemency petition for Marvin Wilson, who had been convicted of homicide and sat on death row awaiting execution. While investigating the case, Drew was not only convinced Marvin was innocent, but he was appalled at how Marvin’s legal claims were handled.
Unfortunately, the clemency petition was denied. And Marvin was executed.
“The man I got to know was a truly soft, gentle, loving man.” Drew says. “Every person we talked to in his community just talked about the heart he had.” Drew finished law school and then completed a three-year program with Gideon’s Promise, a national organization focused on transforming the culture of indigent defense. He currently mentors students in the program.
Soon after establishing Restoring Justice, Drew found himself challenged. With one foot in the trenches of the criminal justice system and one foot in the boardroom trying to provide leadership and garner support, he found himself overstretched. He credits his board with the decision to nominate a qualified individual to manage logistics and donor relations. And that person happened to be his wife Jessica. “She was really the best person to head that up,” he says. “Jessica can see the perspective of people disconnected from the system and really encourage them to stay involved with our efforts.”
Drew and Jessica also have another “project” in the works: their newborn son Jonah. They face the typical challenges of new parents, such as getting enough sleep, but for Drew the birth of his first child has further energized his mission.
“Looking at my son almost makes me more impatient about this work,” Drew says, adding that his frustration with the criminal justice system is based on documentation showing that 75% of court-appointed attorneys exceed the state-recommended caseload limits for adequate representation, leading to lower quality legal services to those who can’t afford private representation. His heart breaks for people accused of a crime that are dependent on social services, because many of his clients facing criminal charges are denied equal access to housing, employment, meals, counseling, and medical care, miring them further in poverty.
“I want this message spread and I want the system flipped from fear to love before he comes of age, so that he never knows this current system of oppression.”
Thank you for supporting Emerging Leaders like Drew Willey, who are committed to serving the underrepresented and showing them Christ’s love.