Natasha Scruggs never had any doubts about what she wanted to be when she grew up. A life in the legal world beckoned to her as early as age 5.
“When I got to law school, it was surprising to me that so many of my counterparts — mostly my white counterparts — had extensive mock trial options and camps,” said the native St. Louisan, whose firm is based in Kansas City. “They had options in middle school, in grade school, in high school that I didn’t have.”
So she decided to create those alternatives for others.
Since 2016, Scruggs has run a law camp for children as a free, week-long experience that brings local police officers, judges, attorneys and social workers into the community for sessions that examine the legal world and educate on social justice. Other issues are sometimes addressed as well. Once, she brought in a local surgeon to speak to the kids about how to stop the bleeding on a gunshot wound.
The initiative was cancelled last year due to COVID-19, but she’s determined it will return in 2021.
“I’m teaching them how they can actually make change,” she said.
The Mississippi College School of Law graduate does a lot to make change herself.
A self-declared “prison abolitionist,” Scruggs said she also knew early on that she wanted to do criminal defense and work both inside and outside of the system, taking on what she calls the “prison industrial complex” by advocating on such issues as the elimination of cash bail.
She serves the interest of individual clients by trying to ensure that, if she can’t get charges dropped, she can at least get them bonded out of jail. She also works to get charges amended and deals with expungements.
“I don’t take no for an answer,” she said.
Her nominators agree. One called her a “true leader,” while another lauded her contributions to the community.
“Natasha Scruggs has been working tirelessly to achieve justice for incarcerated persons around the state,” they wrote. “Natasha is dedicated to social justice and helping our world achieve equality.”
Other aspects of that work include her efforts in the past year to provide free counsel for Kansas City protestors who faced charges after demonstrations related to the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed while being arrested in Minneapolis.
Scruggs said she believed that police had acted unconstitutionally in filing charges against protestors, and she worked with another lawyer, Stacy Shaw, to help get dozens of charges thrown out.
“We started offering pro bono representation,” she said. “We have since gotten all those cases dismissed.”
Scruggs also assists former inmates with issues related to their reentry to society. That can include connecting them with resources and information or advising them about the reinstatement of their voting rights, which may be restored after completion of probation and parole.
“A lot of people didn’t think that they could ever vote,” she said.
Today, she is working to bring all of her efforts under one roof by creating JustUs System Inc., her own nonprofit organization. The name is derived from a sense of self-reliance, she said.
“Volunteering and doing work for the community is my passion,” she said. “We don’t have to wait for the government or celebrities or things like that to change our community. We can do it with just us.”