Jerry Leakey

The Project

Jerry (he/him/his) will support socially and economically vulnerable seniors in the rural areas of Palm Beach and Hendry Counties in Florida, by providing assistance through direct legal services, outreach, and education.

Prior to joining the Elder Justice Program, Jerry worked in the Children’s Healthcare Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. There he assisted parents, guardians, and other advocates in removing barriers to medical, dental, behavioral, and mental healthcare for children in Palm Beach County. Jerry is proud of the assistance and education he provided to his clients and the community to improve access to care for children in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Florida has a larger elder population than most other states, and elder exploitation is concerning due to both the individual acts of victimization and the potential number of victims being targeted. Seniors are being taken advantage of by strangers, neighbors, family, caretakers, and “friends.”

Fellowship Plans

Jerry’s project aims to reduce older individuals’ susceptibility to crimes of financial fraud, exploitation, and abuse through trainings and outreach, and to remedy the harmful effects of these crimes when they occur by advocating for victims’ rights and providing full-scope representation when needed. Jerry’s outreach activities will focus on rural underserved communities throughout the two-county service area and will include presentations and when possible distribution of brochures and flyers at senior community centers.

The Project

Oliver (he/him/his) will prevent COVID-19-fueled evictions of small businesses and residential renters at high risk of displacement in South Florida through direct legal representation, policy advocacy, and movement lawyering.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged both individuals and businesses in Florida.  Close to one million individuals in Florida are at risk of homelessness due to not having the funds to pay rent. Many businesses are also struggling under the weight of the pandemic.  The crisis lands with a thud on South Florida communities that have long been under-invested in. Robust legal services, encompassing both direct legal services and policy advocacy to address root causes, as well as community organizing, can start to make a difference.

Oliver sees this work as the continuation of a multi-generational struggle to protect the most marginalized in South Florida.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Oliver will work to ensure that vulnerable renters, small businesses, and the community organizations that support them in Little Haiti, Allapattah, Little Havana, and Liberty City have the legal representation and partnerships in place to survive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Oliver will seek to utilize all resources the law provides to ensure that Black and Latinx businesses in these areas have the chance to continue to meaningfully support their communities. He will focus on identifying and preparing legal action against slumlords and landlords who have filed—and will file—to evict their tenants and educate decision-makers on systemic, community-driven solutions to these issues.  Oliver’s efforts will be in conjunction with a community-led coalition of partners and organizations to create a sustainable movement lawyering model that works for South Florida post-COVID-19.

Media

FAMU Law 2021 Graduate Oliver Telusma Receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship to Help People Avoid Eviction

FAMU College of Law grad receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship

This wasn’t just a chance to work for the Community Justice Project, but to fight for equity and justice for marginalized people in the very community that my story started.

Oliver Telusma /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Latasha will provide free civil legal aid in disaster-prone areas to ensure vital legal services are accessible, comprehensive, and responsive to the unique needs of individuals, families, and communities to rebuild lives, stabilize neighborhoods and create resilience.

The needs addressed by her project include the various unmet needs of disaster survivors in being informed of their legal rights and options for resources in the areas of housing, consumer, and government and community programs. Since some of the many unmet needs of disaster survivors in housing include landlord/tenant issues related to housing conditions, evictions, and repairs, these are areas that she will focus her efforts on. Some other unmet needs that she intends to address include a variety of consumer rights issues, especially in the realm of contractor abuses or failures to provide agreed-upon work or contractor liens where work was not completed as agreed.

Latasha has been especially inspired by disaster resiliency because, until her exposure to this area of law, she did not realize just how vast of a range there was in unmet legal needs following a disaster. She has always had a passion for housing and consumer rights legal issues. Her connection to disaster involved members of her own family who were affected by a significant storm in the Atlanta area back in 2018. In this case, her mother’s house was blown into pieces, and her mom and family were displaced with nothing short of a few days’ assistance from a community partner. It was in this personal instance of turmoil that she realized just how dismayed a family could become when hit by a disaster and sudden tragedy.

Fellowship Plans

Latasha plans to provide free civil legal aid in disaster-prone areas to ensure vital legal services are accessible to the unique needs of individuals, families, and communities affected by the disaster. Some of the significant activities intended to accomplish these goals include providing direct legal services, delivering outreach and education to underserved communities through “Know Your Rights” presentations and collaborating with partners, other legal aid organizations, and cohort Fellows to serve communities impacted by the disaster.

Latasha previously served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.

The Project

Abigail’s Fellowship served to improve school safety by advocating for the provision of comprehensive school- and community-based mental health services for at-risk students.

Children with behavioral health challenges are often identified as disciplinary problems or safety threats, rather than provided with the types of educational support services that would allow them to remain in the classroom. This project sought to advocate for students to receive nonpunitive interventions that prevent the escalation of risky behaviors and ensure schools are safe, supportive learning environments for all kids.

Prior to law school, Abigail worked with children in out-of-home care who had mental health needs and developmental disabilities, seeing the difference made by behavioral health services inspired her to advocate for systemic reforms to make school a safer, more welcoming place for all students.

Fellowship Highlights

  • Advocated for students with mental health needs to receive accommodations for their emotional wellbeing, thus reducing class time lost to ineffective disciplinary measures or crisis interventions.
  • Won settlements for young children who experienced repeated restraint, removal, and involuntary psychiatric examination without the consent of their parents while in school.
  • Prevailed at an administrative due process hearing for violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on behalf of a student who cycled through hospitals, juvenile detention centers, and different schools because of her disability, but was not receiving consistent, non-confrontational behavior interventions services as required by her IEP.
  • Collaborated with state and national civil rights organizations to challenge policies that criminalize rather than provide behavioral services to youth for conduct related to their disabilities.

Next Steps

After the fellowship, Abigail will continue advocating for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities to get necessary services at school and in their communities. Abigail will join Southern Legal Counsel as a full-time attorney with the Children’s Legal Services Keep Kids in School Project.

Media

Helping Students Back to School Amid Uncertainty

FAMU Law Graduate Selected for Equal Justice Works 2019 Class Of Fellows

Too many children are perceived as merely “bad,” when a complex set of environmental and biological variables may impact their ability to function at the same levels as their peers.

Abigail Adkins /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Sesilia provided legal advocacy and representation for low-wage Latina workers in the hospitality industry experiencing wage theft, discrimination, harassment and other employment issues in Central Florida.

The hospitality industry represents one of the largest and fastest growing employment sectors in Orlando, which impacts Latina workers. Latina workers may experience wage theft, discrimination, harassment, and other employment issues. Employment discrimination and inequity experienced by Latina workers stems from an intersectional framework of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and at times, immigration status. Factors contributing to the vulnerability of Latina workers in employment may include language barriers, lack of knowledge of rights, misperceptions of the rights of undocumented workers, and lack of access to legal resources. This project provides legal advocacy by addressing the enforcement of wage theft complaints to the Office of Attorney General and by direct legal representation, including filing Fair Labor Standards Act and other employment claims in court.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Sesilia has:

  • Conducted intakes and provided legal services and referrals to Latina woman who have employment law issues
  • Conducted 45 community presentations and workshops
  • Forged community partnerships and collaborations, attending over 40 coalition and other community meetings
  • Collaborated with local community partners in scheduling regular Know Your Rights presentations on a bimonthly basis
  • Developed materials on workers’ rights under Florida law and highlighting common workplace problems, as well as a Know Your Rights informational card
  • Project highlighted in El Sentinel – Orlando Sentinel and in local Spanish radio shows

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Sesilia plans to continue advocating for the immigrant and Latinx community.