Mary Claire Kelly

The Project

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.

Fellowship Plans

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

The Project

Alison (she/her/hers) connects Bronx Residents to the public benefits they need through a new medical-legal partnership, working with community organizations to identify barriers and advocate for improvements to public benefits.

As the borough with the most COVID-19 hospitalizations and the highest unemployment rate, the Bronx was hit hard by the pandemic. One in seven residents were infected with COVID-19 before the Omicron wave in late 2021. Alison’s project will leverage legal tools in partnership with community organizations to ensure that pandemic recovery in the Bronx is equitable.

Fellowship Plans

Alison’s project aims to improve two core social determinants of health: economic stability and healthcare access, for Bronx residents through an innovative medical-legal partnership. Her Fellowship has three core goals: increasing access to public benefits (especially medical benefits) to enable pandemic recovery; addressing systemic challenges faced by benefits program participants; and combining community lawyering with medical-legal partnerships.

As someone who has benefited immensely from public benefits like the GI bill, I know our social safety net can work for people if we design it that way. I’m excited to improve access to benefits now while pushing the system to be better in the future.

Alison Roberts /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zoe (she/her/hers) will represent indigent parents accused of prenatal/postpartum drug use in the Bronx and create resources for community and policy advocacy to disrupt the womb-to-foster care pipeline.

The child welfare system—more accurately termed the family regulation system (FRS)—routinely undermines the welfare of children by surveilling and separating them and their families. Overrepresented in the system are low-income people of color. In New York City, Black children account for 23% of children under 18, but a staggering 53% of the children in the foster system. In contrast, 26% of the children in New York City are white, but white children comprise less than 6% of the foster population.

One entry point into the FRS for Black families is during prenatal and birth care. Despite similar or higher rates of drug use among white women, Black women are ten times more likely to be reported to the FRS for a positive drug test at the time of birth. Separating children from their families causes severe emotional trauma, and science shows that removing newborns impacted by prenatal drug use can risk inflicting physical harm.

Parents facing removal of their newborns and allegations of neglect based on prenatal or postpartum substance use need comprehensive support, including direct representation, policy reform, and community organizing.

If all families had access to housing, safety, and resources, it would drastically reduce family trauma. Instead, the FRS removes children from all they know and love, creates barriers to reunification, and propagates far more intractable trauma for children. It is Zoe’s desire to support the efforts of communities already using their voices for resistance by creating legal and policy advocacy aimed at an egregious and discriminatory system grossly propagated in the name of children’s welfare.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Zoe will represent parents in Family Court who face the removal of their newborns to the FRS based on allegations of substance use. She will develop tools for litigating substance use neglect cases. These tools will include writing model motions, compiling a resource bank of current medical and scientific research on substance use and misuse, and identifying medical and harm reduction experts who can serve as expert witnesses and consultants. Additionally, she will work with community members to mobilize support for legislative reforms that seek to disrupt the womb-to-foster-care pipeline.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

As a child of Black parents, raised in a low-income community, I feel an unyielding determination to support sustainable change for system-involved, low-income Black and Brown families.

Zoe Russell /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Seran (they/them/theirs) seeks to advance protections for transgender and non-binary people in housing and homelessness contexts through direct representation, policy advocacy, and education.

Transgender and non-binary people, especially transgender and non-binary people of color, face disproportionately high rates of housing discrimination and homelessness. Transgender and non-binary people experience disproportionately high rates of housing instability and homelessness for several (often related) reasons, including family rejection, heightened risk of abuse, increased risk of chronic health conditions, and discrimination. Additionally, while experiencing homelessness, transgender and non-binary individuals struggle to find shelter because of discriminatory policies and attitudes.

Seran’s experiences as a non-binary person of color have driven them to advocate for the just treatment of all people regardless of gender, class, ability, or race.

Fellowship Plans

During their fellowship, Seran will represent transgender and non-binary people who have faced housing discrimination or been denied access to a homeless shelter. They will work directly with members of their community to ensure that policies and legislation fully protect the rights of transgender people in housing and homelessness contexts. Additionally, they will provide education to service providers to ensure service providers are aware of the rights of transgender and non-binary people.

The goal is not just survival; we deserve the chance to have lives worth living.

Seran Gee /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Liz’s (she/her/hers) project at Legal Counsel for the Elderly will preserve safe and affordable housing for low-income older adults in D.C. through direct representation, outreach, and systemic advocacy, with a focus on building capacity for self-advocacy and collective action.

The affordable housing crisis in D.C. makes it almost impossible for low-income older adults to age in place. Nearly one-third of all extremely low-income renters in D.C. are older adults, and some spend up to 90% of their monthly household income on rent. In addition to being severely rent-burdened, many older adults, including those in units owned by the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), live with hazardous conditions like severe mold that endanger their health and safety. There is an immediate need for direct representation to stabilize individual tenancies. To create sustainable and systemic change, there is also a need for lawyers to engage in outreach, community education, and strategize with organized tenant groups to support self-advocacy and collective action.

Fellowship Plans

Liz will represent tenants in administrative hearings and before the D.C. Superior Court Housing Conditions Court to preserve housing subsidies, enforce rent control, and make sure landlords address dangerous conditions of disrepair. At the same time, she will identify and build relationships with organized groups of older adult tenants, including senior building tenant associations. Through outreach, she will listen to tenants’ needs, develop trainings on tenant rights and entitlements, and conduct intakes in the community. Over time, she will identify patterns of landlord abuse and develop litigation strategies that respond to community-defined needs and complement tenant organizing.

Media

Liz Butterworth Honored With the Gants Access to Justice Award

I believe that housing is a human right, that older adults have a right to age in place, and that collective action is the route to justice. I am committed to supporting the self-advocacy and collective power of older adult tenants.

Liz Butterworth /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Grant (he/him/his) investigates the automated decision-making systems used in government benefits programs and advocates for low-income individuals across the United States whose benefits have been unfairly reduced or eliminated because of algorithmic bias.

More than 37 million Americans are in poverty, and with rising inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many more rely on government benefits to keep themselves afloat. To meet rising needs, state and local agencies across the United States have turned to automated decision-making systems to make government benefits programs more efficient and effective. However, many automated decision-making systems are deeply flawed and exhibit serious errors and biases that unfairly reduce or eliminate government benefits for those most in need: low-income communities of color. For the millions who rely on government assistance, these algorithmic errors can cause serious harm—often without impacted individuals ever knowing.

The son of an engineer, Grant has long believed that technology and justice go hand-in-hand. He has worked both within and outside government to fight algorithmic bias, surveillance, and corruption.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Grant will file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to publicize how government agencies use automated decision-making systems and challenge agencies who fail to disclose information in court. Alongside organizations serving low-incoming communities, Grant will develop educational materials and provide support for impacted individuals by filing amicus briefs. And to prevent future harm, Grant will push state agencies and legislatures alike to adopt A.I. guidelines that protect individuals from algorithmic harm.

Too many families have struggled to stay afloat amid COVID-19, and they should be able to trust our government to support them. EPIC’s work ensures that agencies use artificial intelligence to help, not hurt, those in need.

Grant Fergusson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

As a Fellow with Disability Rights Louisiana, Sarah is focused on the specific needs of individuals with disabilities who have been affected by disasters. As part of her project, she will provide direct services to clients dealing with a wide variety of disaster-related issues. In addition to providing services to individual clients, Sarah will work with community members and other stakeholders to develop more equitable disaster resilience in New Orleans and Louisiana more broadly.

Many individuals with disabilities face unique challenges before, during, and after natural disasters, from navigating the logistics of evacuation to ensuring access to essential services and assistive technology. Those with disabilities often also face unique barriers in housing and employment as a result of COVID-19. By combining direct services work with community outreach and policy advocacy, Sarah’s project will allow her to address both the immediate needs of her clients and to contribute to work and advocacy attempting to deal with the broader systemic issues affecting her clients.

Fellowship Plans

Sarah’s work with queer community inspired her to go to law school and to pursue public interest work. She was in her first year of high school when Hurricane Katrina swept away most of her Mississippi town. In the aftermath, she witnessed her community struggle and work to rebuild itself. She hopes that her experience working with marginalized communities and her personal experience with natural disasters will help her to be a better advocate for her clients.

The Project

Jacob (he/him/his) will advocate for fair political maps to be drawn in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin in the 2020 redistricting cycle. He will work to ensure equal access to voting, education, health, and racial justice. 

In growing Midwestern urban centers, local problems stem directly from the lack of state-level representation due to gerrymandering. For example: Detroit filed America’s largest municipal bankruptcy; Flint failed to provide its residents with clean water; Madison changed school superintendents six times in eight years amid multiple racial controversies; and Kenosha’s mismanaged police force shot Jacob Blake. 

After the Kenosha shooting, residents’ advocacy for independent prosecution was futile against a legislature that had diluted their community’s power. Gerrymandering limits access to funding and legislative change, leaving communities with fewer resources for schools and police department oversight. It creates and compounds racial disparities. 

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jacob will support challenges against gerrymandered districts as Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin redraw their state legislative and congressional maps. He will conduct research, find plaintiffs, conduct investigations, and support critical filing of lawsuits. While many structural changes require political rather than legal action, redistricting provides a unique opportunity to allow communities to advocate for themselves both in litigation and in the legislature once fair maps are drawn. 

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

Growing up in Wisconsin, I saw firsthand the effects of representation. I was a high school student in the Madison public schools when a gerrymandered legislature demanded drastic, unprecedented school cuts for large districts including mine. My calling is advocacy for schools, and my tool is redistricting.

Jacob Carrel /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

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.

Fellowship Plans

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.

Media

2021 Greenberg Traurig Equal Justice Works Law Fellows to Tackle Racial, Economic, and Social Justice Issues

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

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

The Project

Through legal representation, impact litigation, and community advocacy, Travis (he/him/his) will work on behalf of Texas kids ensnared in the school-to-prison pipeline to ensure every child has a meaningful opportunity to thrive in school. 

Every year in Texas, over 16,000 kids are referred from the classroom to a police officer. Tens of thousands more are suspended, expelled, or pushed into alternative disciplinary schools. Growing up in the Texas public school system, Travis has seen firsthand the life-altering impact these punitive discipline policies can have on kids. The result is generations of disproportionately Black and Brown kids who are deprived a chance to succeed because for every instance of exclusionary discipline, a student becomes less likely to graduate and more likely to become incarcerated. Today, Texas’ school-to-prison pipeline operates in violation of both state and federal law, but no dedicated affirmative litigation effort currently exists to address the needs of kids, their families, or their community. 

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Travis will work together with those most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline through legal representation, litigation, and community advocacy. Impact litigation will generate an important accountability mechanism to make systemic change and force schools to reinvest in students’ education. Additionally, “Know Your Rights” trainings, self-help legal materials, and collaborations with community organizations will help empower those directly harmed by school discipline to reclaim children’s educations. 

Media

Houston Community Demands Changes to HISD Code of Conduct

Fighting To End School Policing

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

As a Texan and former teacher, I believe schools should treat students with patience and compassion, not handcuffs and pepper spray.

Travis Fife /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow