Jasmine (she/her/hers) upholds California’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) through local technical legal assistance, enforcement litigation, and advocacy focused on robust AFFH implementation alongside and on behalf of rural low-income communities of color that are owed their right to an affordable, safe, and sustainable neighborhood.
More than half of all Californians are experiencing housing cost burdens. Of California’s regional and state communities, the San Joaquin Valley (SJV)—which is composed of majority Latino/a/x, Black, AAPI, and Indigenous rural, historic, impoverished, and farmworking communities—is disproportionately impacted by these housing cost burdens. This compounds with other issues in the community, such as inadequate housing conditions, unhealthy land use patterns, experiences of community disinvestment and displacement, and environmental burdens—like the lack of access to safe drinking water and chronic exposure to poor air quality—to disproportionately affect these low-income communities of color. Climate change, COVID-19, rapidly escalating housing costs, and eviction moratoria expirations have increased these inequities even further.
To achieve the right to a sustainable, safe, and responsive community and to undo the United States’ legacy of systemic, racist housing discrimination, we must fulfill the need for dedicated work to community lawyering and advocacy alongside rural low-income communities of color across the SJV—which is labeled as an “attorney desert” by the California State Bar.
Jasmine sees herself and her family in the residents of rural California as they fight for safe communities and for their voices to be heard. Jasmine’s commitment to justice stems from her maternal and paternal grandparents’ experiences in rural Jim Crow Alabama, Mexico, Greece, and Nevada as well as her own hardships within racist and hostile institutions. She wants to see all low-income neighborhoods and communities of color thrive in every space and place they go.
Jasmine will collaborate with local cities and counties as they update their statutorily required housing plans regarding jurisdictions’ compliance with the AFFH rule. She will also enforce state and federal violations of AFFH, housing, environmental, land use, and civil rights laws through litigation on behalf of community group clients. Finally, Jasmine will collaborate with state agencies to ensure ongoing robust AFFH implementation, conduct trainings for the public on robust AFFH compliance, and write a policy paper on AFFH community engagement, legal work, and advocacy strategy best practices.
As a woman of color, my personal and familial experiences of racist space and place drive my passion for pursuing the right to restorative communities and the reversal of historic and ongoing racist discrimination for those most impacted in our communities.
Jasmine Robinson /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jillian (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of underserved communities in Manchester, New Hampshire to expose and tackle environmental and health harms from an incinerator emitting toxic “forever chemicals” and other pollutants.
The City of Manchester owns and operates an incinerator that burns waste from its sewage treatment plant and emits toxic substances, including PFAS, which are long-lasting, health-harming chemicals often referred to as “forever chemicals.” PFAS emissions from Manchester’s sludge-burning incinerator contribute to the cumulative environmental impacts that threaten the health of communities of color and low-income communities in Manchester—communities that experience a disproportionate burden of environmental harm. Despite the pressing need for environmental justice advocacy in the area, neither the City of Manchester nor New Hampshire has an enforceable environmental justice policy to protect communities experiencing disproportionate health and environmental harms.
Jillian chose to attend law school because she hoped to harness the law to secure environmental justice protections for communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental burdens. Speaking with community members about the many environmental inequities that harm low-income residents and residents of color motivated her to pursue an Equal Justice Works Fellowship that addresses health-harming toxic pollution in Manchester.
Through education, direct engagement, and legal advocacy, Jillian will amplify community voices in Manchester to address health and environmental inequities caused by the City’s sludge incinerator and potentially other health-harming facilities. Jillian’s project will also use public outreach, legal advocacy, and engagement with government officials to formulate strategies to reduce and eliminate “forever chemicals” from products so that they do not reach the City’s waste facilities. Jillian may also engage with community members and lawmakers to develop an enforceable statewide environmental justice policy.
My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve the environmental justice community in Manchester, NH, where cumulative environmental harms exacerbate racial and income-based inequities. I am honored to use my legal skills to combat the problem of ‘forever chemicals’ in Manchester.
Jillian Aicher /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Peter will advocate for creative solutions to increase protections for individuals forced to migrate due to climate change through direct representation, trauma-informed pro bono training, and policy work.
Every year, more than 25 million people are forcibly displaced by sudden onset disasters such as floods, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures. By 2050, up to 216 million people throughout the world could face the same fate due to slow-onset climate events such as droughts and rising sea-levels. No comprehensive international legal framework currently exists to address displacement caused by climate change and disasters—a crisis of increasing magnitude. There is a clear need to address climate-driven displacement to protect and provide safe havens for impacted persons.
Peter is committed to ensuring the United States respects its moral and national interest in creating legal pathways to humanitarian protection for individuals fleeing climate-driven hazards and setting an example for other countries to do the same.
This project is unique in its integrated response to climate-driven displacement—incorporating litigation, climate-informed resource development, trainings for a national pro bono network of asylum attorneys, and policy advocacy. During his Fellowship, Peter aims to help climate-displaced individuals in two ways: by ensuring maximum protection is extended under existing U.S. legal frameworks; and by advocating for the adoption of new forms of protection.
My Equal Justice Works Fellowship grants me the privilege to serve those disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. I am honored and proud to unwaveringly advocate with and for all forcibly displaced individuals and facilitate a coordinated response to climate-driven migration.
Peter Habib /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Brooke (she/her) will provide direct representation to tenants experiencing lead exposure while collaborating with community organizations dedicated to the prevention and remediation of lead exposure within the Appalachian Basin.
Lead exposure continues to have disproportionate impacts on historically marginalized communities, including communities of color and low-income residents. This project recognizes that tenants and their families are uniquely vulnerable to lead exposure due to barriers to access preventative and remediation resources. It also recognizes that the aging infrastructure of the Appalachian Basin puts these communities at higher risk than the national average.
Brooke has experienced housing insecurities and empathizes that the emotional and financial tolls this causes are compounded by lead exposure.
Building upon the relationships that Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services has established within Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, Brooke will partner with community organizations to support their advocacy and outreach efforts. Brooke will engage in cross-jurisdictional analysis and develop Know Your Rights guides for lead exposure focusing on landlord-tenant relations. In addition to offering direct representation, Brooke will develop a public guide to mitigate the barriers facing attorneys in accepting pro-bono lead exposure claims and advocate for increased capacity of these services in the region.
As someone with generational roots in the Appalachian Basin, I look forward to combining my community organizing experience and legal education to foster equal access to environmental justice.
Brooke Christy /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Mary Claire Kelly’s (she/her/hers) project at ACE will assist local grassroots movements in Massachusetts with legal advocacy for climate and environmental justice in communities of color and low-income communities that have a long history of subjection to environmental racism. This project adds capacity and momentum for environmental and climate justice advocates in Massachusetts as they build towards a sustainable and equitable future.
Through this Fellowship, Mary Claire will help communities tackle current environmental justice issues and build legal and policy avenues to address the future issues that the climate crisis will bring. As a movement lawyer, she will assist grassroots coalition members and residents of communities affected by pollution with legal advice, action, and strategy. This work will include helping local and state efforts to implement climate justice policy and providing legal assistance to marginalized communities advocating for a livable environment.
Mary Claire entered law school for the purpose of becoming a public interest attorney. She developed this project out of a commitment to the ethics of movement lawyering, and out of frustration and anxiety about the economic and social factors that have led us to climate crisis.
It will take all of us to turn our collective future away from climate chaos and towards a path of healing and equity. I am honored to do my part through this Fellowship with the amazing people at ACE.
Mary Claire Kelly /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Norrel (she/her/hers) will uplift the experiences of her community and provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region to ensure low-income residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water.
Lack of access to safe and affordable drinking water is a rapidly growing environmental justice issue disproportionately impacting communities of color and lower-income communities. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, water affordability should be no more than 3% of a household’s monthly income. Yet, some Detroiters pay more than 20% of their monthly income toward their water bills. Detroit residents shoulder crippling debt from unaffordable water bills in a city plagued by failing infrastructure.
Detroit residents who cannot afford their water bills face displacement of their children and homelessness. Additionally, having no water or plumbing infrastructure has been linked to a rise in infectious diseases worldwide, even in the U.S. In 2016, Michigan experienced a Hepatitis B outbreak; a study found that water inaccessibility contributed to the spread of the illness. Detroit needs a permanent equity-based water affordability plan to address structural inequality and increase the quality of life for residents.
Born in Flint, raised in Detroit, and being personally affected by water issues compelled Norrel to join the fight for water affordability. Black and poor citizens are routinely and disproportionately negatively affected by human rights abuses.
Building on the foundation that water warriors before her have laid, during her Fellowship, Norrel will provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy to ensure low-income residents have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. The current legal framework provides little protection for Detroiters’ water rights. Norrel will work as an advocate for residents, helping them appeal to correct water bills, enroll in existing low-income payment programs, and eliminate the practice of shutting off water for non-payment.
Water is a human right! Every human being deserves access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water.
Norrel Hemphill /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jina (she/her/hers) advocates with low-income residents of color in East Oakland, California for environmental justice and community resilience through direct representation, education, and policy implementation.
Racial justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Amidst current crises like the racial disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic are the persistent crises in environmental justice communities like East Oakland—pollution, poverty, and more—which are exacerbated by climate change and an extractive economy that prioritizes industry profits over residents’ health. In such globally challenging times, East Oakland is also grappling with how its future will look and who will control its fate, as it faces unreliable energy, serious respiratory health issues, and displacement.
Low-income residents of color in East Oakland need a comprehensive response that will build community resilience, capacity, and self-determination, supporting their self-empowerment toward a more just and sustainable future.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Jina has:
- Collaborated on and submitted 17 briefs and comments advocating for energy justice to state administrative agencies
- Presented to community members about microgrids and community energy resilience
- Moderated the “Project Development in Frontline Communities” panel at the California Climate Policy Summit in Sacramento, CA
- Collaborated with over 20 groups and participated in over 65 coalition meetings to expand project’s reach and impact
- Led pro bono work on educational materials and legal review training
In the next year, Jina plans to:
- Initiate litigation against a long-time local polluter
- Finish laying the groundwork for a clean microgrid project in East Oakland
- Bring community vision into community benefits negotiations
During the beginning of my family's story in America, we struggled to survive in a foreign place with no voice and no power. These early experiences taught me the importance of listening to and amplifying the voices of people who our society often silences, and motivated my decision to pursue community lawyering.
Jina Kim /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Through regulatory advocacy, direct representation, and public awareness campaigns, Jorge (he/him/his) will advocate for disadvantaged communities in Wisconsin facing disproportionate exposure to toxic pollutants from contaminated water, particularly PFAS exposure.
The United States has a national drinking water crisis disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color. Across the country, disadvantaged communities are vulnerable to exposure to water contaminated with a group of toxic and persistent synthetic chemicals known as per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that at least two types of PFAS were detected in at least one public water system in 24 states. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources confirmed the presence of PFAS in sediment and surface water at the EPA-designated Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern, which covers portions of the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Vulnerable communities at risk of suffering severe health repercussions of toxic exposure need a comprehensive advocacy response to defend their right to safe drinking water.
Jorge will employ a multi-pronged strategy to advocate for safe drinking water to mitigate the health risks associated with PFAS exposure. Jorge will amplify the voices of vulnerable communities through Wisconsin’s rulemaking process and develop a strong administrative record to urge for a reasoned regulatory response. He will also monitor and engage with federal regulatory developments that may affect state regulations. Jorge will develop educational materials on the risks of toxic exposure and promote local activism to spur statewide water testing. Finally, he will work with affected individuals to assess whether direct legal action is needed to seek redress.
Environmental justice is ultimately about removing barriers to allow for equal protection under a democratic government and fair competition under a market economy. Through this fellowship, I want to amplify the voices of marginalized communities facing disproportionate legal and economic burdens. I want to foster equal access to the decision-making process allowing for a healthy environment in which people can thrive regardless of socioeconomic status or skin color.
Jorge Roman-Romero /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Idalmis (she/her/hers) will defend the environmental and housing rights of Black and Latinx families impacted by industrial lead contamination in East and Southeast Los Angeles through litigation, land use advocacy, and community education.
Low-income Black and Latinx communities in East and Southeast Los Angeles are living with high levels of lead resulting from the industrial contamination of one of the last lead smelters on the West Coast. For over 30 years, the Exide battery recycling facility emitted over 7 million pounds of lead into the air, water, and soil of these communities. The continued exposure to this neurotoxin is causing irreversible damage to children’s development and cognition. This contamination has resulted in what will be the largest cleanup of its kind in California and one of the biggest in the country.
Idalmis will help address this environmental and racial injustice by advocating for the rapid and effective cleanup of contaminated homes and creating a litigation and policy strategy to ensure public health resources are provided to these impacted communities. Through Know Your Rights trainings, she will ensure residents are also provided the tools to advocate for local land-use policies that reduce their environmental burden and prioritize parks and other community resources.
As someone who grew up less than two miles from the Exide facility, I went to law school to ensure my community has an attorney on their side fighting for their health, rights, and dignity.
Idalmis Vaquero /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Madeline employed a multi-dimensional legal and policy strategy to support families and community organizations concerned about elevated lead levels in school drinking water across the state of Missouri.
Due to the age of some school buildings in Missouri, children are exposed to lead while attending school in certain parts of the state. This was very prevalent in schools in the St. Louis area. For example, based on public records, elevated lead levels were detected in drinking fountains at schools in the St. Louis region as recently as September 2021. Madeline addressed this public health crisis by advocating on behalf of these communities, culminating in her leading the efforts in passing the Get the Lead Out of School Drinking Water Act.
Madeline believes that communities should not be exposed to contaminates or pollution at higher rates because of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic status. She was inspired to do this work because of her grandmother’s community in North St. Louis, which faces many environmental injustices. Throughout his Fellowship, Madeline started her legal career by representing her grandmother’s community and other while advocating for clean water in St. Louis Public Schools.
During the two-year Fellowship, Madeline:
- Led the Filter First Community Coalition to victory with the passage of the Get the Lead Out of School Act, which requires the testing and remediation of lead in school drinking water
- Researched and drafted the first draft of this state bill
- Raised awareness of lead contamination issues in St. Louis schools by presenting and meeting with over two dozen community groups
- Conducted hours of legal research, collaborated with advocates from around the country, and met with elected officials, which culminated in Madeline crafting a policy recommendation for St. Louis area schools
- Filed comments on behalf of a community organization to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Revision and communicated the group’s interest in a public listening session hosted by the Agency
Madeline will stay at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center as a staff attorney, where she will continue to focus on environmental justice issues throughout the state of Missouri.
Environmental statutes and public health regulations should benefit everyone, not just the wealthy. Your ZIP code or the color of your skin should not dictate your quality of life in regard to exposure to toxins and pollution.
Madeline Semanisin /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow