Jina (she/her/hers) will advocate 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 encounters challenges like 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.
During her Fellowship, Jina will represent the community in proceedings regarding California’s energy portfolio and implement a microgrid in the community. She will work with residents to develop a community benefits agreement to prevent displacement and to support local economic development. She will also develop educational materials on wildfire preparedness and other environmental health issues of interest to the community.
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
Elizabeth works to reduce the staggering number of people serving extremely long and often unnecessary probation sentences in Georgia to promote successful reentry through policy reform, education, and direct representation.
Georgia has the highest rate of people under correctional control in the entire nation, and, on average, sentences individuals on probation nearly three times longer than other states. Black people are disparately impacted under Georgia’s probation system. Although Black people make up just 33% of Georgia’s population, of the 190,000(+) individuals serving probation, nearly 50% are Black people. From both a safety and cost perspective, Georgia’s staggering numbers are ineffective at improving outcomes for those individuals serving sentences and the community as a whole. Elizabeth works to create legislative and administrative changes to Georgia’s probation system. She also advocates for those serving excessively lengthy probation sentences, which will reduce the number of people on probation in Georgia.
Elizabeth’s faith is the driving force behind her passion to advocate for the overlooked and the oppressed. She knows personally what it means to have a great advocate and desires that every person in the criminal justice system knows what it means to have someone fight for them.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Elizabeth has:
- Provided research support to help pass a probation reform bill (SB 105) that became law on May 3, 2021. The bill sets clear criteria for early termination pathways for those on probation in Georgia.
- Delivered presentations on Senate Bill 105 to over 300 Georgians including directly impacted individuals, attorneys, and probation officers.
- Assisted two clients with receiving early termination of their probation sentence and five clients seeking expungement of their records.
- Created educational materials to inform Georgians of their new rights under SB 105 and presented to 270 directly impacted individuals, attorneys, probation officers about the bill.
- Provided advice to over 40 individuals about how SB 105 impacts their probation sentence.
In the next six months, Elizabeth plans to:
- Complete a probation self-advocacy packet to help individuals seek relief under SB 105.
- Begin conducting know-your-rights probation trainings in-person for community partners and stakeholders, with a focus on SB 105.
- Represent individuals in early termination of felony probation hearings.
- Create template motions and probation termination advocacy materials for attorneys.
- Track and collect Senate Bill 105 implementation data to inform where further reform is needed.
Martina advocates on behalf of Atlanta’s tenants to improve housing stability in Atlanta by using grassroots advocacy, client-driven affirmative litigation, and tenant education to redress housing-related legal issues and their underlying causes.
Atlanta has one of the highest eviction rates in the country and this housing instability disproportionately affects predominately Black communities in the area. The costs of housing instability play out in all aspects of these tenants’ lives, from healthcare to education to voting rights. These housing issues are often only framed as a family’s inability to pay rent, rather than a result of unmet legal needs and predatory landlord practices. Many of these tenants are not aware of their rights and defenses to evictions and are often unrepresented in legal eviction proceedings.
As someone born and raised in Georgia, Martina has personally seen members of her community struggle as a result of the rising eviction crisis in Atlanta. As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate this housing crisis, Martina believes that now, more than ever, it is important to empower tenants and support them in fighting to stay in their homes.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Martina has:
- Established a Housing Advocacy Partnership with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers’ Foundation that provided eviction awareness and support for individuals facing eviction in the Metro-Atlanta area
- Launched the Columbia Branch Housing Navigator Program which has helped over 100 tenants facing eviction through advice on their housing rights and the CDC eviction moratorium, as well as volunteer trainings
- Presented to 230 individuals about how to access financial assistance to pay for rent or utilities
- Complied a fact sheet about the housing crisis, which was distributed nationwide
In the next year, Martina plans to:
- Bring the NAACP Housing Navigator Program to Atlanta in order to provide tenants with legal and financial assistance
- Conduct monthly Know-Your-Rights trainings for at-risk tenants in Atlanta and engage Clorox attorneys in these trainings
- Develop an affirmative litigation strategy for housing-related issues
Growing up outside of Atlanta, I saw how housing instability was directly related to the way in which Black people were treated in every aspect of their lives.
Martina Tiku /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Billy works to ensure equal access to housing and employment for BIPOC people with criminal records in Oakland through direct legal services, community education, and systems-change efforts.
Creating equal opportunities in housing and employment for the one in three Californians with a criminal record addresses a concrete effect of mass incarceration and criminalization of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. Black individuals, in particular, are five times more likely to have a record than white individuals. This reflects the disproportionate rate at which Black individuals, especially Black men, are arrested and incarcerated. Having a record seriously damages a Black person’s chances of having stable housing and employment. Black job seekers are 50% more likely than their white counterparts to have their records used against them. In Oakland, 73% of homeless people have criminal records. While California has made some strides in banning discrimination against people with criminal records, enforcement is sorely lacking.
While committed to public interest since applying to law school, Billy has also seen the harmful effects of criminal record discrimination within their own family and brings this experience with them in their fight for a more just legal system.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Billy has:
- Helped dismiss a total of 29 convictions from 10 clients’ records, and provided legal advice to 70 individuals total
- Filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Housing and Employment for a client who was wrongfully terminated because of an old conviction
- Made their first court appearance representing a client during their record cleaning hearing where their convictions and remaining fees were dismissed
- Began to explore potential impact litigation related to discriminatory housing ordinances
- Presented on employment and housing issues to individuals on lifelong parole taking part in an entrepreneurial program
- Conducted a housing clinic with the Clorox Company
In the next year, Billy plans to:
- Make materials and give a presentation to landlords/employers on their legal obligations to applicants
- Organize collaborations with service providers to improve online information about background checks
- Continue researching “crime-free” and nuisance ordinances that are harming BIPOC communities around California and helping advance future litigation challenging one of these ordinances
- Work with pro bono attorneys to provide at least one free legal clinic to impacted people in Oakland with a focus on employment and housing issues
- Continue to assist between two to six people who call Root & Rebound’s Friday hotline each week
While fighting institutional racism must take place on many fronts, I am inspired by Root & Rebound’s mission to stand with people trying to rebuild their lives after prison and to address the direct consequences of the prison industrial complex.
Billy Strelow /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Whitney is providing a new model of holistic representation to juvenile court-involved Oakland youth and their families who live in subsidized housing in order to prevent eviction and create lasting stability.
Current federal law allows for local public housing authorities to establish broad reaching policies on crime. In Oakland, this means that families can face eviction from public housing if any member of the household or a guest, including a young person, allegedly engages in criminal activity on or off of public housing premises, whether or not charges or a conviction result. When coupled with the disproportionately high arrest rate of youth of color in Oakland, the sweeping nature of this policy has a devastating impact on families. Not only does it lead to homelessness – dissolving family units and uprooting youth from their communities and schools – it also negatively impacts the trajectory of a young person’s juvenile court case. To combat this impact and keep families housed, this project will provide Oakland families at the intersection of the public housing and juvenile justice systems with desperately needed holistic legal and social work advocacy.
During Whitney’s Fellowship, Whitney:
- Implemented a holistic legal and social work model of representation
- Provided full representation to 11 clients and brief services and advice to 30 others
- Prevented the eviction of families from subsidized housing and helped court-involved youth navigate the juvenile justice system through the provision of direct representation in both housing and delinquency court
- Conducted outreach to numerous local organizations
- Started to build a partnership with the Oakland Housing Authority
- Expanded the holistic model of representation to serve more families at the intersection of the juvenile justice and public housing systems
- Increased community education and outreach efforts to raise project awareness and reach more people in need of representation
- Began to track and measure outcomes of clients served by the holistic model of representation
Jessie expanded legal advocacy to create access to quality mental health services for Alameda County’s foster youth through direct representation, community collaboration, and policy implementation.
More than half of foster youth have a need for mental health services; however, many are over-institutionalized and receive minimal mental health services. Children with troublesome behavior are placed into alternative schools or restrictive group homes and about 25 percent of foster youth are prescribed psychotropic medications with little oversight. An attorney is needed to confront the legal barriers that prevent foster youth, especially youth of color, from receiving adequate mental health treatment.
In the past two years, Jessie has:
- Provided direct representation to 53 foster youth with high mental health needs, participating in two trials and numerous settlements on behalf of her clients;
- Consulted with 38 individual foster youth hospitalized for a psychiatric emergency to ensure protection of their legal rights in placement and medication;
- Reviewed more than 270 psychotropic medication requests and conducted follow-up with providers and youth on many of these;
- Interviewed around 15 youth held in juvenile hall and represented them in delinquency hearings by providing information regarding mental health and trauma history;
- Conducted over 30 trainings on legal mental health topics, including local psychotropic medication approval procedure; foster youth mental health privacy protection; trauma-informed systems; guardian ad items for transition-aged youth; and the basics of dependency practice;
- Obtained a $23,000 grant to support ongoing review of psychotropic medication requests for foster youth.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Jessie plans to:
- Continue her mental health advocacy for foster youth at East Bay Children’s Law Offices;
- Incorporate trauma-informed representation and mental health awareness into advocacy for foster youth who are charged with crimes or detained at juvenile hall, and youth who are at risk of being commercially sexually exploited;
- Train additional providers, courts, and attorneys;
- Maintain thorough self-care to enable her continued open heart for her clients.