A service-learning delegation from the University of the District of Columbia Law embarked on a journey to the South during the 2023 spring break. Olie W. Rauh Professor of Law, John Brittain, led the UDC Law delegation embarking on a civil rights tour that stretched from Memphis to Jackson, culminating in collaborative projects with the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ).

The group, which comprised of faculty staff and students including Professor Debra R. Cohen, Managing Attorney of Clinical and Experiential Programs Tiffanny Smith, Student Teaching Assistant Robert Ward ’23, and students Claudia Cuesta Garibay ’23, Hedda Garland ’23, Tonya Harris ’23, Gabriel Herman ’23, Alexus McNeal ’23, Taylor Rogers ’23, Kenya Whitaker (’23), Keturah Holliday 3L, and Mary Swanson 3L, set out to explore the heart of the civil rights movement in the United States.

Their journey commenced with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, located on the same grounds as the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was tragically assassinated in 1968. Beginning their trip to the museum set the tone for the group’s deep dive into the history and ongoing struggles for civil rights in the United States.

From Memphis, the group traveled to the Mississippi Delta, an area with a rich history of landmark civil rights struggles and enduring systemic poverty. In this region, they visited museums and historic sites, bearing witness to the enduring effects of pervasive racism that continue to impact Mississippi.

Throughout the week, the UDC Law team partnered with the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing racial and economic justice in Mississippi. Their projects with MCJ included researching and drafting a memorandum focused on accountability and transparency in the state legislative process, aimed at supporting impact litigation. Students also evaluated the state’s adherence to federal Medicaid regulations, developed educational materials on financial aid, small loans, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau information to make this vital information more accessible to high school students.

Additionally, students identified heirs to property to assist in clearing title, a critical step in addressing property rights and land ownership issues, and drafted petitions for criminal record expungement, helping individuals reintegrate into society by removing the barriers of a criminal record.

The group also had the opportunity to attend a legislative public hearing at the Capitol, and attend Justice Court, where they engaged with the presiding judge, and interviewed the Mayor of Jackson. These experiences further enriched their understanding of the legal and social challenges facing the Deep South.

The UDC Law service-learning delegation’s immersion in civil rights history and their commitment to addressing present-day inequalities is a testament to the law school’s dedication to promoting justice and bringing about positive change in the world. This trip not only provided invaluable learning experiences for the students but also allowed them to contribute to the ongoing fight for civil rights and social justice.

Service-Learning is just one of the many ways that UDC Law practices law, promotes justice, and strives to make a lasting impact on the lives of individuals and communities. The lessons learned and the connections made during this journey will leave a lasting impression on UDC Law students as they continue their legal education and careers.

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