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Dispatches from Fellows helping low-income tenants, small business-owners, and victims of elder abuse access justice.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, we celebrate the work of our Fellows who are bringing us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”—a society based on justice and equal opportunity.
“Service means trusting the community you serve to articulate their needs, and then uplifting and advocating for those needs,” said 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow Madison Wiegand Brown, who is sponsored by the Rossotti Family Foundation. “Tenants acutely understand the need for safe and healthy housing, it is our job to try to get them there.”
Illinois has one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the country. At Legal Aid Chicago, Madison represents low-income Chicago families who have been exposed to lead due to unsafe housing conditions, in collaboration with personal injury attorneys and community partnerships. Although legal protections exist, there is little to no enforcement of lead law protections. For example, when a landlord receives a mitigation notice for lead hazards, and there is a child or pregnant person on the property, the landlord must mitigate the lead within 30 days. When there is neither a child nor pregnant person, the landlord has up to 90 days. When Legal Aid Chicago reviewed the records of the Chicago Department of Health, they found that on average, landlords take a whopping 394 days to mitigate lead hazards on a property.
Through Legal Aid Chicago’s medical-legal partnership, Madison seeks holistic outcomes for her clients and community-informed impactful legal solutions for those who have been exposed to lead. This means, “challenging and changing the conditions that people live in, so that they have the chance to lead healthy lives,” she said.
Service means trusting the community you serve to articulate their needs, and then uplifting and advocating for those needs.
Madison Wiegand Brown /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Growing up in a low-income household, 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow Kevin Perry learned the importance of assistance programs and how they can help lift many people out of poverty. “For every helping hand my family received it was one less challenge we had to resolve ourselves,” he said. Kevin became a Fellow to have a positive impact in his community, and the very challenges that inspired him to go to law school are the issues he tackles in his work as a Fellow.
At Volunteers of Legal Services, Inc., Kevin, who is sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP, focuses on leveraging civil and transactional legal resources to historically marginalized and underserved communities within the Northeast Brooklyn area. Many small business owners in this economically stagnant area are unable to allocate funds to stay afloat, defend themselves from legal challenges, and, often, recover. Through his Fellowship, Kevin connects with clients and community partners through virtual workshops and legal counsel, as well as facilitating small business ownership training.
“When we stand up for equality and justice, we empower others to do the same, and in time you are never alone,” explained Kevin, on why he is passionate about serving communities in need.
When we stand up for equality and justice, we empower others to do the same, and in time you are never alone.
Kevin Perry /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Elder abuse is a growing problem, with 1 out of 10 older Americans experiencing some form of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation each year. At Indiana Legal Services, Inc., 2020 Fellow Cortney Sweat from the Elder Justice Program* provides legal assistance to elderly adult victims of crime for the northern half of Indiana.
Cortney was drawn to this work because as a prosecutor, she would often see defendants have their rights put above the rights of the victim. Now, as a Fellow, she is able to provide holistic services to clients and “help victims beyond what closure they receive from criminal prosecution.” Her case load consists of clients who have been victims of domestic violence and need advice or assistance with protection orders, individuals who are under abusive or overly restrictive guardianships and need termination or modification of the guardianship, and consumer issues where clients have been scammed.
“Standing up for equality and justice to me means to never become complacent in the status quo,” said Cortney. “…We are all not equal and we do not all have the same access to justice. We should always be striving for a more just world, and that cannot happen until we stop being complacent with the status quo.”
We should always be striving for a more just world, and that cannot happen until we stop being complacent with the status quo.
Cortney Sweat /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
We are proud of all our Fellows for bringing lasting change to our communities. Learn more about their commitment to service here.
The Elder Justice Program is supported by an award from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Award Number 2019-V3-GX-K033. This federal funding is supplemented by funds from private donors. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.