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Fostering a More Just Society

/ Blog Post

Each year on December 10, Human Rights Day gives us a chance to reflect on the work that needs to be done to ensure that every single person—regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status—can access their unalienable rights and freedoms. It is also a chance to celebrate the work of Equal Justice Works Fellows who work tirelessly to protect our universal human rights and advocate for underserved communities across the country.

Photo of Madeline Middlebrooks

Madeline Middlebrooks, a 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Faber Daeufer & Itrato PC, supports low-income African American families on the lead contamination water crisis in St. Louis area schools. While the United Nations General Assembly has recognized the human right to clean drinking water, the United States does not recognize this right under any federal laws. In 2016, water samples from 16 schools in the Saint Louis area contained high levels of lead contamination. Madeline is working with her host organization, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, to address this issue through advocacy efforts at the state level and by representing affected community members.

“Environmental statues 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 regards to exposure to toxins and pollution,” said Madeline.

Environmental statues 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 regards to exposure to toxins and pollution.

Madeline Middlebrooks /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

By connecting with community members in the field, sending record requests to state agencies, and analyzing water sampling results, Madeline is helping to address this environmental disparity and ensure that children have access to clean drinking water in St. Louis schools.

Photo of Archie Roundtree Jr
Photo of Archie Roundtree, Jr.

The United Nations General Assembly has also identified housing as a fundamental human right, yet millions of Americans struggle to afford a place to live. At Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Archie Roundtree, Jr., a 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Elder Justice Program, works on preserving homeownership and home equity for senior homeowners who are victims of fraud and elder abuse.

The pandemic has exacerbated fraud targeted at senior homeowners, such as deed theft and home improvement scams. Archie advocates for clients through negotiations, appeals, and civil legal options to obtain much-needed relief and protections. He also conducts community outreach and education on social service resources, home equity protections, and crime victims’ rights, to reduce older individuals’ susceptibility to these scams.

“Standing up for equality and justice means not allowing the systemic oppression for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is about empowering the community and having the humility to understand it is not about you,” said Archie, on what service means to him.

Standing up for equality and justice means not allowing the systemic oppression for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is about empowering the community and having the humility to understand it is not about you.

Archie Roundtree, Jr. /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Photo of Sarah Nawab

In an environment like jail or prison, where incarcerated people face serious human rights violations daily, Sarah Nawab, a 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow cosponsored by General Electric Company and Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP, is determined to bring incarcerated women and the unique challenges they face during incarceration to the forefront of prisoners’ rights advocacy.

Incarcerated women face a lot of the same challenges as incarcerated men—inadequate medical and mental health care, brutality, and poor conditions of confinement—in addition to more unique challenges such as inadequate pregnancy and reproductive health care, and sexual violence by staff. The pandemic has also greatly exacerbated existing issues of inadequate medical care, and the use of lockdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19 has been “detrimental to my clients’ mental health,” Sarah noted.

With her host organization Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, Sarah provides trauma-informed advocacy and rights education to ensure that women can access adequate medical and mental health care and are protected from predatory assaults. She is also building relationships with community-led organizations to strengthen advocacy.

Service means letting my clients lead, and showing up for my clients the way that they want me to, rather than presuming their needs. Equality and justice mean using the resources and systemic access I will have as a lawyer, not to speak for my clients, but to pass them the mic.

Sarah Nawab /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

We are proud of how Madeline, Archie, and Sarah are standing up for equality and justice and doing critical work to uplift lives and communities. To learn more about how our Fellows are creating a lasting impact in their communities, click here.

The Elder Justice Program is supported under grant 2019-V3-GX-K033, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this press release are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. This federal funding is supplemented by funds from private donors.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow