Advocating for fair schools: Last summer, a parent whose child had been expelled as the result of harsh zero tolerance policies contacted the Center’s educational opportunities team for help.


 
 
November 2013
In the News
Port of the Future – Aboveboard, a documentary about the wayward path of a $600 million Hurricane Katrina recovery project to expand the State Port of Gulfport, Mississippi, drew hundreds of concerned citizens to its premiere last week. Read more about the documentary here.
 
Read “Our View: Center for Justice and Women’s Fund — 10 years of making a better Mississippi” on theMississippi Business Journal blog.
Quick Links
Seeking Program Director
Join our dynamic team of social justice advocates as program director in the Biloxi, Miss. office. Click here for a full job description.
Reilly Morse new President/CEO 
Letter from Martha Bergmark, founder and senior counsel, about leadership transition at the Center:
 
Dear Friends,

As we mark the milestone of our Tenth Anniversary let me take a moment to thank each of you for your contributions to the Mississippi Center for Justice over the years, and to share with you some important news. In 2003, our founding board, led by Fred L. Banks, Jr. and Rob McDuff, set an ambitious goal for the new Center: to create a home-grown capacity to advance racial and economic justice in communities, in the policy arena, and in the courtroom. At that point, Monica Galloway and I shared a single desk in a spare room at Rob’s law office.

In the ensuing decade, we have built a secure foundation. We have attracted an extraordinary board and staff, and a loyal cadre of generous supporters. With the Center firmly established and making great strides, I was approached earlier this year about leading a national communications effort to build awareness of the vital role of civil legal aid in assuring fairness for all in the justice system. After much thought and consideration, I have decided to take on that challenge while maintaining a leadership role at the Center. 

Fortunately, the Center has a deep bench of experienced and successful advocates and a singular leader in Reilly Morse. As the Center’s Managing Director, he leads the newly-expanded executive team. In September, the board unanimously selected Reilly to succeed me as President/CEO, effective November 1, 2013.

 
Click here to read the entire letter.
 
Photo: Reilly Morse and Martha Bergmark at the 2013 Champions of Justice Dinner
Advocating for fair schools 
Last summer, a parent whose child had been expelled as the result of harsh zero tolerance policies contacted the Center’s educational opportunities team for help. The expulsion occurred without sufficient notice of the allegations against him or an appropriate due process hearing. At that time, J.F. was in the eleventh grade, with no prior record of suspensions or expulsions. The Center understands the severe consequences expelled students face after being removed from the education environment, including the increased likelihood of repeating the grade and dropping out. So, the education team pursued the reversal of a decision made without the benefit of a fair hearing. 
 
The Center appealed the school board decision to the chancery court. Jacqueline Smith, educational opportunities staff attorney, argued the case in the Chancery Court of Montgomery County, Mississippi. She sought to have J.F.’s expulsion reversed and to expunge the incident from his record. “He was allowed to bring an adult to his hearing with the school district; however, according to the Winona School District’s Handbook, that person could not speak on the student’s behalf. J.F. was expected to defend himself against a panel of school administrators with no clear knowledge of the charges or testimony against him,” said Smith. 
 
The judge reversed the decision to expel J.F., citing the failure of the school district to provide due process before denying a student his right to a public education. Today J.F. is back in school, preparing to complete his senior year and continue his education on the secondary level. “This case sets a precedent about school handbook policies and can help ensure Mississippi school districts adhere to both state and federal constitutional protections when disciplining students, and before denying a student his constitutional right to an education,” said Kimberly Merchant, educational opportunities director. The Center’s educational opportunities team will use this precedent to influence discipline policy in other school districts and to encourage the Mississippi State Legislature to standardize due process proceedings throughout the state, so other students will not face the hardships J.F. and his mother were forced to endure.
 
Photo: Jacqueline Smith, educational opportunities staff attorney
Celebrating a decade of progress 
The Center celebrated its tenth anniversary on October 10, with more than 700 guests at the Champions of Justice Dinner at the Jackson Convention Complex. Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson served as master of ceremonies and Board Chair Debra Brown introduced avideo retrospective of the Center’s first decade, narrated by Mississippi’s own Morgan Freeman. Our honorees were founding board member Fred L. Banks, Jr. and former state bar president Joy Lambert Phillips, two leaders who have advanced equal rights and access to justice statewide over the course of their distinguished careers. Board member Bill Ray, CEO of BankPlus, introduced Consumer Protection Director Paheadra Robinson to share the latest developments about the Center’s exciting New Roots Credit Partnership initiative.
 
Founder and Senior Counsel Martha Bergmark announced that the Center raised $515,000 in pledges and donations, a new record. She also paid tribute to all those whose efforts enabled the Center’s launch and impressive decade of growth. “It was a great pleasure to honor Fred and Joy for their unwavering commitment to fairness and justice as the Center marks its ten year anniversary. And thanks to our generous supporters, we can look forward to continued progress as we carry on the work of civil rights legends who paved the way,” said Bergmark.

The following morning, 55 guests from a dozen states embarked on the 2013 Great Mississippi Road Trip, a three-day excursion into the sights, sounds and culture that make the Mississippi Delta so unique. The bus tour provided a vivid experience of pivotal moments in civil rights history thanks to first-hand accounts by Reena Evers Everett, Wheeler Parker and Charles McLaurin, among others. Another highlight occurred when Kimberly Merchant, managing attorney of the Indianola office, introduced a music video about the Affordable Care Act created by teenage activists in Shelby, which, days later, was featured by the White House Office of Public Engagement. This year’s Road Trip was completely sold out.

Please enjoy and share these great events via our photo collections on Flickr!

 
Photo (L-R): Richard Ford, Carol Burnett, Fred L. Banks, Jr., Martha Bergmark and Isaac K. Byrd, Jr. inaugurate the Center’s first office in Jackson, Miss.  
Bergmark honored as woman of vision 
Martha Bergmark was recently recognized as one of ten Women of Vision by the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi in honor of its tenth anniversary.  Along with former Champions of Justice Helen Barnes, L. C. Dorsey and Myrlie Evers, Bergmark’s accomplishments in the area of social justice were celebrated by an overflow crowd at the Jackson Convention Center October 24.  
 
The Center is proud to be a recipient of a grant from the Women’s Foundation to assist in our work against predatory lending, and we appreciate the partnership we’ve had with the Foundation in fighting payday lending for several years. For more information about the Women of Vision visit the Women’s Foundationwebsite.
 
Photo (L-R): Courtney Choi, staff attorney; Paheadra Robinson, consumer protection director; Linda Rigsby, health law director; Beth Orlansky, advocacy director; Martha Bergmark, founder and senior counsel; Debra Brown, board chair
New community organizer 
Jasmine Williams-Washington will serve as community organizer in the Center’s Jackson, Mississippi, office, where she works to inform the public about the Affordable Care Act and access to healthcare. She received a B.A. in Criminal Justice and a M.A. in Public Administration from Albany State University in Albany, GA. Prior to working with the Center, Jasmine worked in communities throughout the Deep South, with a focus on community development and economic growth.
 
Read Jasmine’s full bio here.
Please visit our website, volunteer and donate online at www.mscenterforjustice.org.
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About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, and Kuwait over the past 4 decades.
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