Tiffany (she/her/hers) will provide for the economic empowerment of women experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Wichita Falls, Texas and the surrounding rural communities through direct representation, on-site intake at service provider locations, and community outreach.
The Texas Homeless Network estimates that in 2019 more than 8,000 people experienced homelessness in 215 rural Texas counties; additionally, in a 2020 report, the Texas Tribune showed that rural homelessness in Texas was up 33%. COVID-19 continues to pose risks for those experiencing homelessness as social services have become more limited, and the economic effects of the pandemic have put more Americans at risk of homelessness. With this trend of increasing homelessness, it is important to note that women’s homelessness is highly associated with exacerbating factors such as domestic violence and sexual exploitation/harassment, violent victimization, human trafficking, and trauma—all of which deteriorate mental health. Rural, low-income Texans already have difficulty accessing basic legal services; furthermore, rural areas in Texas generally lack dedicated resources to find and aid those experiencing homelessness, leaving churches and faith-based organizations as some of the few community lifelines.
During her Fellowship, Tiffany will focus on homelessness and homelessness prevention for women in the rural communities served by the Wichita Falls office of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. She will create and maintain partnerships with local non-profit and faith-based organizations that serve women experiencing or at risk of homelessness through outreach and on-site community intake to make civil legal aid accessible to this population. Tiffany will remove barriers to employment and sustainable housing by handling expunctions and nondisclosures of criminal records and litigating civil protective orders. Additionally, she will conduct community surveys to collect data on the additional legal needs of these women.
I do not know what it is like to be a homeless woman living in rural Texas. I do know, however, that it is my calling to use my legal knowledge to transform society into one that uplifts the marginalized.
Tiffany Uke /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Brenda (she/her/hers) will launch an innovative CDFI-Legal Partnership (CDFI-LP) to provide immigration and small business legal services which address the nexus between immigration status and economic justice for immigrants in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s Latinx population is growing steadily while the state’s white population has begun to decline. However, the typical white family in Minnesota holds five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This disparity extends to Latinx-owned businesses. Most recently, immigrant entrepreneurs were significantly impacted by the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, protests were centered in the heart of the immigrant business districts of Minneapolis in St. Paul, having the unintended consequences of property damage and extended business closures.
Immigration status directly impacts the stability felt by immigrant business owners and their family members. Gaining pathways to legal status and citizenship would allow entrepreneurs to invest more confidently in their future.
This project will create a partnership between three non-profit organizations to serve clients more holistically and efficiently. The fellow will directly engage with Latinx entrepreneurs and their family members by providing legal intake, direct legal services, and referrals to staff attorneys and pro bono volunteers. Additionally, she will create a case study of this unique partnership and provide trainings to organizations and trade associations interested in replicating this model elsewhere.
As the granddaughter of immigrants, I felt a strong desire to serve immigrants who choose to make Minnesota their home. My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has allowed me to use my CDFI background and firm belief in the power of community partnerships to serve the legal needs of Minnesota’s Latinx community.
Brenda Pfahnl /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Miles’ (he/him/his) project focuses on minimizing the crippling effects of heirs’ property on intergenerational wealth building in Middle Tennessee’s Black communities through free estate planning services, representation in partition litigation, and community education.
Miles’s project uses estate planning to help narrow the Black-white wealth gap in Middle Tennessee. Homeownership is the primary method of wealth-building in the United States, but Black Americans own homes at lower rates than other racial groups, and their homes are disproportionately held in heirs’ property. Heirs’ property is a form of joint ownership created when property owners die without an estate plan, which minimizes the owners’ home equity and makes their property vulnerable to a forced sale. Miles’s project will help community members prevent heirs’ property, maximize equity, and advocate for procedural rights in actions to force sale.
Miles was raised in Sumner County, Tennessee where many of his neighbors and family members own heirs’ property. His firsthand familiarity with the vulnerabilities of heirs’ property ownership has motivated him to pursue community-based legal work to minimize its harmful effects on families’ capacity to build intergenerational wealth.
To promote understanding of how heirs’ property ownership diminishes wealth, Miles will conduct community education clinics throughout Middle Tennessee’s Black communities. By providing free estate planning services to (non-heirs) property owners, Miles will also help prevent the promulgation of heirs’ property and help Black property owners begin a legacy of estate planning in their families. For families that own heirs’ property, Miles will facilitate succession plans and advocate for robust procedural rights during partition litigation.
The racial wealth gap undergirds countless racial inequities in the United States. I am thrilled at the opportunity to help Black communities build wealth through better access to legal services.
Miles Malbrough /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Mikayla (she/her/hers) will represent clients and educate members of the community on heirs’ property issues to help underserved communities build generational wealth through land and property ownership.
Heirs’ property occurs when an individual dies without a will. When there is no will, families who inherit the land lack a clear title to the land, which developers then use to their advantage to purchase the land, often without the knowledge of all the family members. Heirs’ property disproportionately affects African Americans and has resulted in a loss of vast amounts of land.
Growing up in South Carolina, Mikayla has seen many Black families lose their lands over the years and the demographics and cultures of cities rapidly change. After attending law school, Mikayla believes that, through the legal system, traditionally underserved communities can fight to keep their land and preserve their culture.
Mikayla will represent clients in traditionally underserved communities in matters such as will writing and estate planning. Mikayla will also conduct educational seminars regarding heirs’ property and the importance of land preservation. At the end of her fellowship, Mikayla plans to compose a symposium where she will invite experts and scholars in heirs’ property and land loss issues to come and speak about heirs’ property in their respective regions.
As a mixed-race woman from the south, minority land ownership is important to me. My ancestors were not allowed to own property- but instead were property. Through this fellowship, I plan to address the racist history of the American legal system.
Mikayla Mangle /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.
Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.
Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.
Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.
Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.
Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Juan (he/his/him) will equip low-income entrepreneurs and community-based organizations with the legal tools to help build a more equitable small business economy that moves capital and power into the hands of Los Angeles communities of color.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended Los Angeles’s small business economy. And like the virus’s health impacts, its economic effects have disproportionately harmed communities of color and continue to exacerbate systemic racism. In LA’s Asian ethnic enclaves, many family-owned, immigrant businesses were unable to navigate recovery programs, with more and faster relief services directed to majority white, west-side areas. In South LA, predominantly low-income Black and Latino communities were kept from financial assistance and the last to have accessible testing sites–months after the breakout. In East LA, street vendors were excluded from relief programs and forced to rely on small cash grants provided by nonprofits for basic sustenance and survival.
Juan’s love of the immigrant community that carried him forward—the ingenuity, resilience, and joyful magic—fuels his passion to fight for racial and economic justice at Public Counsel in Los Angeles.
During his Fellowship, Juan will provide transactional legal assistance to help minority-owned small businesses access recovery and survive financial hardship. He will expand the capacity of community-based organizations to develop new ownership models for cooperative economic success. Additionally, he will engage in policy advocacy through narrative and visual arts platforms that elevate the voices of low-income entrepreneurs of color.
I’m excited to join a growing coalition of advocates that will shift power in ways that uplift the stories of people like my parents—Mexican working-class immigrants that have lived an entire life serving and making others feel more at home.
Juan Espinoza Muñoz /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Madison (she/her/hers) represents low-income individuals exposed to lead in housing, in collaboration with community partners and private attorneys, strategically targeting portfolio landlords to achieve the highest impact.
Illinois has one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country. Lead exposure in housing—the most common type of lead exposure for children—disproportionately burdens communities of color and people living in poverty. Lead exposure in children can cause lifelong brain damage that impacts communities for generations. In housing, lead can be abated, and even small reductions in lead exposure can make a difference, preventing future harm.
Madison knew that she wanted to pursue justice for marginalized communities before she knew she wanted to a lawyer. Madison’s work is rooted in the belief that marginalized communities are knowledgeable, capable, and worthy of human rights. She hopes to use her voice and privilege to uplift those without the opportunities she has been given.
Madison will directly represent low-income families in Chicago who have been exposed to lead due to unsafe housing conditions with community informed impactful legal solutions. Madison will target portfolio landlords and landlords with repeat offenses. She will identify these bad actors by collaborating with community organizations in the areas most affected by lead. She will also work with community organizations to identify potential clients and directly represent these organizations. In pursuing these lawsuits, Madison will collaborate with pro bono and private attorneys, seeking holistic outcomes for her clients and creating a toolkit to provide comprehensive, enduring services.
I know what it is like to look around the room, as a small child and as an adult, and realize that no one is going to defend you, even if you are right. Tenants living in under resourced communities have the knowledge and strength to evaluate their needs, but an avenue for justice is missing.
Madison Wiegand Brown /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Sam (he/him/his) will increase access to traditional transactional legal services for low-income, BIPOC, and women entrepreneurs and help them navigate the legal barriers to raising capital through accessible securities offerings.
Despite accounting for more than 50% of New York City’s population, Black and Latinx individuals own less than 10% of New York City businesses. Black or Latinx individuals that are able to start a business are pushed toward lower-financed ventures with lower survival rates. In fact, these entrepreneurs are three times more likely to have growth and profitability negatively impacted by a lack of capital than white entrepreneurs. However, the specialized nature of securities law means that for most under-resourced businesses, finding and/or paying the cost of legal counsel is a barrier to access.
During his Fellowship, Sam will help under-resourced businesses grow, create jobs, and build community wealth. He will do this by counseling clients on avenues to raise funds through accessible, exempt securities offerings. He will prepare all necessary legal documents and undertake any necessary compliance filings. Sam will work with Start Small’s in-house finance and marketing teams to effectively design, structure, and market the offerings. He will create an education program to inform entrepreneurs and the public about local securities offerings.
I want the businesses in the community to reflect the people of the community, while at the same time making sure that entrepreneurs can pay themselves a reasonable salary, hire the help they need, and build for the future.
Sam Karlin /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Emmy works to enforce and improve Georgia’s occupational licensure laws, expand access to licensed employment, and reduce the collateral impacts of mass incarceration by representing clients with criminal records, advocating for licensing policy change, and educating licensed workers about their rights.
By virtue of having a criminal record, more than one-third of Georgia residents face serious barriers to government-licensed professions, despite a recent state law requiring otherwise. In Georgia, roughly 40% of common low-income professions are licensed, and 14% of workers overall need a license to work. Access to stable employment is key to economic empowerment, successful reentry, and reducing the collateral consequences of a criminal record. The barriers of a criminal record to gainful employment are most harshly felt by over-policed Black and brown communities in Georgia, as well as low-income Georgians.
As a Southerner, Emmy feels strongly about opposing injustice in her home region, especially the consequences of the racially oppressive and unjust criminal legal system. She is thankful to Georgia Justice Project for sharing these values and is thrilled to work with Georgians with criminal records to expand access to employment and economic stability for all Georgians.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Emmy has:
- Providing full representation to 20 clients, including representing more than 10 individuals on their licensing matters
- Provided legal advice and referrals to over 110 individuals on their occupational licensing and/or criminal records matters
- Through presentations and dissemination of flyers, educated directly impacted people with criminal records on their rights in the licensing process and common barriers to licensed professions
- Researched occupational licensing policy reforms; surveyed client experiences to identify barriers in the application, revocation, and appeal processes; and developed a list of needed reforms in Georgia licensing law
- Collaborating with six groups to increase the reach and impact of the project
In the next year, Emmy plans to:
- Continue representing clients seeking occupational licenses
- Advance specific policy goals to increase access to occupational licensing for people with criminal records
- Deepen connections with licensing boards to gather data and understand internal policies about criminal records
- Engage sponsors on pro bono participation to expand project impact
As I serve clients at Georgia Justice Project who face irrational, unjust barriers to employment, stability, and reentry, I hope to amplify their voices and stories as examples of those fighting for change and justice in Georgia and across the South.
Emmy Williams /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
This project cultivated community well-being by helping Bay Area working-class communities of color anchor themselves against displacement by collectively buying their workplaces and dwelling places.
Working-class communities of color are increasingly striving to anchor themselves against displacement and precarity by collectively buying their workplaces and dwelling places. Businesses and business owners receive representation in these transactions; workers almost never do. Tenant organizations cede negotiations to community land trusts; they put their fate in the hands of others. Jay worked to ensure workers and tenants receive legal representation as they strive for self-determination.
During the two-year Fellowship, Jay:
- Represented a restaurant group and a newspaper in worker co-op conversions. Learned firsthand the inadequacy of trying to stand between a business owner and workers by representing the business in these fundamental transactions. Began charting a new way forward for worker co-op conversions;
- Represented the resident association at a 200-unit apartment complex in rejecting a substantial rehabilitation proposal that would have removed hope of resident control in identifying funding sources that would allow resident control, and in negotiating with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to secure an ownership change putting the resident association in control;
- Successfully represented a nonprofit in converting to worker self-determination;
- Provided brief advice to 70 clients through SELC legal cafes;
- Spoke frequently about the need for worker-centric worker co-op conversions. As a result, became a go-to resource for unions and worker groups exploring worker-centric worker co-op conversions involving labor conflict;
- Presented to Office of Senate Presentation Pro Tempore Atkins and Oakland Councilmember Nikki Bas.
Post-fellowship, Jay will continue working at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Jay’s main goal will be intervening in the United States’ burgeoning worker co-op conversion industry to ensure conversions happen in a worker-centric way in alignment with labor movement strategy. Jay’s secondary goal will be serving as a limited equity housing cooperative advocate holding the largely unoccupied space between tenant organizations and community land trusts in California.