MISSISSIPPI CENTER FOR JUSTICE

Advancing racial and economic justice

Jackson, MS   |  www.mscenterforjustice.org

Mission

Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.

Ruling year info

2002

President/CEO

Vangela M. Wade

Main address

P.O. Box 1023

Jackson, MS 39215 USA

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EIN

13-4203234

NTEE code info

Civil Rights, Social Action, and Advocacy N.E.C. (R99)

Legal Services (I80)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Mississippi has one of the highest levels of poverty in the nation, which is embedded in a history of racial polarization and discrimination. In attempting to make Mississippi The Social Justice State, the Mississippi Center for Justice seeks to overturn systemic barriers to advancement and eradicate racial and economic injustice in the state.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Access to Healthcare

Access to affordable, quality healthcare is critical to a state’s overall health, education and economic status. Better health outcomes are directly related to insurance coverage that prevents developmental problems in children, increases workforce productivity, reduces use of emergency room services and decreases the cost of publicly-funded programs.
Currently, approximately 500,000 Mississippians are without health insurance coverage, and approximately 100,000 of them are children. Poor health in childhood leads to poor health later in life.
In coalition with other advocates, Mississippi Center for Justice is working to remove barriers that prevent Mississippians and their children from getting the vital care they need to lead healthy and productive lives. The Center is working to ensure that Mississippi fully implement the Affordable Care Act and fight against the discriminatory practices that make it harder for people living with HIV/AIDS to obtain affordable housing, maintain employment and protect their right to privacy. The Center is also working to bridge the gap in access to healthcare for communities of color who suffer from high rates of death from treatable diseases like diabetes.

Population(s) Served

Mississippi’s legacy of poverty is prevalent throughout the state, particularly in communities of color. Predatory lenders – including payday lenders, check cashers, title loans companies, and others – find an environment ripe for preying on the working families and the elderly who find it financially difficult to pay for basic necessities. The impact of predatory lending is compounded by a policy environment that offers few consumer protections. Repeatedly, the fabric of low-income communities of color are torn apart because, while they own fewer homes in Mississippi, theirs are twice as likely to be foreclosed due to disparities of income and the lack of an inclusive financial infrastructure that allows for fair and competitive loan products.
Educational attainment does help change this landscape. Mississippians with college degrees are less likely to experience financial hardship than Mississippians who only have a high school diploma. However, there has also been a spike in problematic student loan debt stemming from expensive for profit colleges in Mississippi. In Mississippi, the fees associated with being poor adversely affect single mothers and communities of color, keeping them entrenched in a cycle of debt that has a negative effect on their children’s education, health and overall well- being. The need for reform has never been greater.

Population(s) Served

The economic future of a state rests on the quality of the education of its citizens. A good education can provide better access to healthcare, improve opportunities for financial stability and create more options for safe and affordable housing. Sadly, lack of access to a quality education is far too common for Mississippi’s children. Every year, Mississippi ranks at or near the bottom for student achievement. These statistics become even more daunting within communities of color and for students with disabilities. These students are more likely to face disciplinary actions, including suspensions or expulsions, which makes them more likely to drop out of school.
Students in Mississippi have a right to fair and safe schools that foster learning and a sense of community, which inspires growth and gives them the tools they need to succeed. The Center is working to ensure that children across the state have access to a quality education to help turn the tide of the education system and work toward improved proficiency scores, better graduation rates for minority and disabled students and adequate funding for all districts.
The Center supports every student’s right to a good education and that means fighting unjust suspensions and expulsions and keeping students in the classroom where they belong. More than just a law firm, the Center also works with parent advocates to help others know that they have the right to challenge their child’s suspension or expulsion.

Population(s) Served

The need for safe, decent, affordable housing across the state of Mississippi is great. Lack of housing options drive gaps in education, health and economic opportunities, particularly for low-income and African-American Mississippians. In fact, the state’s average home value is 50 percent lower than the national average, making it second lowest in the country.
In African American communities, the statistics are even more grim – many more African Americans rent, rather than own. Additionally, almost 32 percent of African American-occupied rental units spend more than half of their income on rent, and on facilities that are older and often overcrowded.
The Center knows that one of the best ways to strengthen communities is by investing in quality housing that is affordable to people at all income levels. The Center is working to address housing gaps in the areas of affordable housing, fair housing and public housing, as well as promoting housing policy as part of its sustainable community initiatives.

Population(s) Served

The Mississippi Center for Justice provides direct legal support and community outreach to ensure that eligible Mississippians can access the public benefits to which they are legally entitled, with a focus on Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Our team also advocates for legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to protect, strengthen, and expand access to these vital programs.

Population(s) Served

The Mississippi Center for Justice’s Immigration team works to: Organize a coalition of state and regional immigrant rights groups to combine resources and expertise to advocate for policy changes; Recruit, train and support the state’s fledgling network of pro bono attorneys handling immigration matters, expanding outreach and offering additional training sessions and mentoring; Coordinate pro bono effort of volunteer attorneys and interpreters to provide outreach and legal representation at the Tallahatchie County and Adams County Detention Facilities; Conduct life-saving “know your rights” workshops for immigrants as well as “Immigration 101” classes for receiving communities to dispel myths and stereotypes; and Provide direct legal services to Mississippi immigrant clients, particularly asylum-seekers, and challenge oppressive asylum policies and decisions through appeals.

On August 7, 2019, 650 federal agents raided six Mississippi communities, arresting 680 of our friends and neighbors in Morton, Canton, Carthage, Pelahatchie, Bay Springs, and Walnut Grove. Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers were loaded onto buses in plastic handcuffs while children, with their new backpacks and school supplies, returned from their first day of school, only to find their loved ones gone. These raids irreversibly harmed families, schools, communities, and our state. The Mississippi Center for Justice is on the frontline of this crisis, providing a swift and powerful response to these attacks on our communities. We are coordinating a rapid response legal team to help community members locate detained loved ones, provide immigration legal assistance to those now facing removal, and ensure the care of children whose parents or guardians have been imprisoned.

Population(s) Served

The George Riley Impact Litigation Initiative is a ten-year initiative to provide litigation and public policy advocacy in areas related to racial and economic justice, including voting rights, housing, consumer protection, and educational access. In 2017, MCJ and Rob McDuff jointly launched the George Riley Impact Litigation Initiative, which is named in honor of longtime MCJ board member the late George Riley.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

The goal of the Mississippi Center for Justice is the creation of a Mississippi in which all people have fair access to what they need for a long and healthy life, a good education, affordable housing, and a decent standard of living, without the barriers of racism and poverty.

The Center’s strategic lens is to achieve clear measurable change at the highest possible level of the system, institution, or market where unlawful discrimination exists. We employ the legal resources best suited to the objective, including impact litigation, legislative advocacy, and brokering partnerships. Systemic change also requires that we engage in administrative advocacy with state and federal agencies, provide public education, influence public affairs and provide technical assistance to essential complementary investments by others. Access to civil justice is a key theme in achieving all of our goals. Engaging our staff attorneys and a pro bono network, our direct service work is in pursuit of long range strategies to achieve broad systemic change goals. We may also provide direct service in fulfillment of an impact case settlement, such as the BP oil explosion or the national foreclosure settlement.

Staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Mississippi Center for Justice is divided into specific campaign areas to address particular areas affecting low wealth Mississippians. At this time, we have campaigns dedicated to access to healthcare, educational opportunities, access to fair lending, food security, access to fair and affordable housing, and immigration rights, along with impact litigation on voting rights and other areas of racial and economic justice. We increase our capacity in each of these areas by working with pro bono attorneys, law students and local and national advocacy organizations. We have developed a reputation in the communities we serve as an organization that can work with a wide variety of interests effectively.

Housing: After Hurricane Katrina, we assisted thousands of people in establishing property ownership in order to get assistance in repairing their homes. As a certified enforcement agency through HUD, we have been able to pursue discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act. We also worked with a consortium to get an Affordable Housing Trust Fund adopted in Jackson, MS and have assisted with the repurposing of abandoned properties by providing title opinions.
Health: Through litigation and advocacy, we were able to reinstate 60,000 poverty level aged and disabled Mississippians onto Medicaid, and we got the face to face requirement for enrollment and reinstatement abolished. In the HIV arena, we got the dentists’ association to adopt a policy agreeing to treat people living with HIV/AIDS, and we have developed presentations/outreach materials to combat stigma. We will continue to attack stigma and fight the criminalization of HIV through legislative advocacy.
Consumer Protection: In addition to assisting hundreds of Mississippians facing foreclosure, we have established a justice court navigator project in Hinds County, MS where volunteers assist individuals facing eviction and debt collection in justice court. Through this project, we have identified a number of systemic barriers facing litigants in small claims court and are going to address these inequities and fight to get them overturned.
Education: Through representation of individual students facing long-term suspension, we discovered huge gaps in due process in the school discipline setting. We created a uniform school discipline policy, which was adopted by a handful of school districts. The legislature passed a law adopting some provisions in our policy. We continue to lobby for adoption of the rest. We have developed outreach for students/parents to learn their rights when a child is bullied, and we will continue to ensure that school districts follow state law against bullying.
Food Security: We got a bill passed in the legislature that opted out of the federal lifetime ban on SNAP and TANF for convicted drug felons. This law will increase access to food assistance for over 60,000 Mississippians. Going forward, we will work with advocates and the MS Dept. of Human Services to create a SNAP working group to address challenges in the way SNAP is implemented in MS.
Impact Work: Recently, we’ve had two lawsuits challenging prisons and local jails’ restriction on what reading material prisoners can have. Both suits resulted in a policy change allowing inmates to read what they want. We also won a redistricting suit in Senate District 22, requiring the shifting of some precincts for the 2019 statewide election to raise the black voting age population. We have suits pending challenging the 1890 Constitution’s provisions disenfranchising certain felons and requiring statewide candidates to receive a majority of votes in addition to a majority of House districts in order to be elected.

Financials

MISSISSIPPI CENTER FOR JUSTICE
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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MISSISSIPPI CENTER FOR JUSTICE

Board of directors
as of 1/29/2020
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Walter Boone

Balch & Bingham LLP

Gordon Greenwood

Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, PLC

Judith Lichtman

National Partnership for Women & Families

David Lipman

The Lipman Law Firm

William Ray

BankPlus

Martha Bergmark

Voices for Civil Justice

Temika Simmons

Delta State University

Donald Verrilli, Jr.

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

Matthew Bergman

Bergman Draper Oslund, PLLC

Robert Raben

The Raben Group

James Rudolph

McKnight Realty Partners

Gerald Blessey

Gerald Blessey Law Firm