5 Years of Making “Good Trouble”

Dana Vickers Shelley celebrates and reflects on her fifth anniversary as Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland.


Here at the ACLU of Maryland, we are constantly challenging laws that harm individuals and their communities. We respond by pushing forward just legal cases and equitable policies so that all Marylanders can live freely.

In marking my 5-year anniversary as Executive Director this June, I am reflecting on what our team has accomplished, and how we are working differently to guarantee the promise of Maryland’s constitution is accessible to all – particularly those whose humanity was not considered at its founding. As a grown-up Girl Scout and rabble rouser, I collaborate with others to advocate for racial equity and justice. And I am dedicated to making what my hero, Congressman John Lewis, called: “Good Trouble.” Each and every one of us at the ACLU of Maryland is a person who finds themselves proudly making “Good Trouble.”

We are relentless so we can protect, improve, and support democracy for everyone across the state. Our community-centered approach builds on decades of our historic expertise and strength in litigation and is making that work even more grounded and impactful than ever. Maryland was an early leader for ACLU affiliates across the country in intentionally centering racial justice in the legal cases we brought.

We do this work on behalf of and with individuals, families, and communities. We are fortunate to be learning from – and led by – people who have first-hand experience with the failings of Maryland’s discriminatory public systems, including voting rights, education, policing, and incarceration.

Over the past five years, we have refocused the organization’s vision and mission. We exist to empower Marylanders to exercise their rights so the law values and uplifts their humanity. Our goal is to realize a Maryland where the people are united in affirming and exercising their rights to address inequities and fulfill the country’s unrealized promise of justice and freedom for all.

We are bold in naming racism, both personal and structural, as the foundation of the rights violations we see. Our current work is not a deviation from the past. It is a focusing, an expansion, and a deepening of how our legal and policy programs have functioned over many years. We are combining key strategies of litigation, legal advocacy, communications, policy advocacy, and engagement and mobilization to fulfill our mission. We are naming the racism and oppressive laws and practices that thwart real change. And we back it up with facts.

It is the ACLU’s role to hold elected officials and policymakers accountable to our values. Sadly, we still have a state in the same shameful tradition of other former confederate states like Mississippi and Alabama when it comes to incarcerating Black men with long sentences. And we still have a state where the Fraternal Order of Police is invited to the table to set police accountability policy, while families who are forced to endure police violence are denied entry to those discussions. We need to be strategic and visionary to dismantle, crush, and chip away at these centuries old laws, practices, and systems that keep Black folks, Indigenous peoples, and People of Color from living our lives fully.

How do we know our approach is working? This legislative session, the ACLU of Maryland and our partners secured a massive victory, with the almost-midnight, Sine Die passage of legislation to end police stops and searches based on the alleged smell of marijuana. We are defending voting rights in a redistricting case brought by Black voters in Federalsburg on the Eastern Shore. The seven Black women who brought the case to us are determined to end 200 years of white-only rule, and we’re right there with them, in court and beyond. And we feel closer than ever to finally ending the racist, federal 287(g) program in Maryland. Local police should not be racially profiling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the guise of public safety. All of our work is paying off.

Your continued support and partnership are deeply appreciated and so vital for more victories like these. We would not be here without member-donors like you. Thank you for helping us be the change we want to see in Maryland – and across our country.

This blog was adapted from the Keynote speech Dana delivered to the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland’s Standing for Justice Conference in May.

Watch it here