By: Emanuel Powell, J.D. ’19

From left to right, Emanuel Powell ’19, Sacajawea “saki” Hall, a Environmental Justice Initiative Client at Cooperation Jackson, and Megan Barnes ’19. Students interviewed saki and other community activists, jurists, and lawyers to learn about criminal legal issues in Mississippi.

From left to right, Emanuel Powell ’19, Sacajawea “saki” Hall, a Environmental Justice Initiative Client at Cooperation Jackson, and Megan Barnes ’19. Students interviewed saki and other community activists, jurists, and lawyers to learn about criminal legal issues in Mississippi.

Back in 2015, I decided to become an attorney so I could play my part in what I saw as the continuing efforts of the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Despite the end of Jim Crow’s form of legalized and explicit racial subordination, my home state still ranks last in “almost every leading health outcome” with a disproportionate burden on Mississippi’s black population and other communities of color, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. This situation is directly linked to our state’s unique history of discrimination, exclusion, and ongoing lack of investment to radically change the conditions in which people are born, work, grow, and age. I decided to go to law school to explore how I may support those fighting in Mississippi to make my state a home in which poverty, hunger and homelessness were not tolerated, where Dr. King’s “Beloved Community” could finally be realized.

Because of these goals, I asked everyone I could about Harvard Law’s Mississippi Delta Project. The Mississippi Delta Project (MDP) is a student practice organization dedicated to supporting Mississippi-based organizations fighting for racial, economic, and other forms of social justice by providing research and guidance on policy issues. An HLS alum created the project after learning from community partners based in Mississippi that there was a need to support local farmers. I wanted to be part of an organization that not only put the needs of Mississippians first, but met those needs with legal and policy strategies as only an attorney could. The presence of MDP on campus made it easy to choose HLS when the time came to make the decision of where I would spend my three years of law school.

I joined MDP in my first semester, working on our Child and Youth Initiative. Our project focused on exploring ways to invest in advocacy for children in Mississippi. I helped create MDP’s Criminal Justice Initiative to address issues in the criminal legal system in my second year. We collaborated with the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi, which advocates for human rights and social justice through litigation, focusing on issues such as police misconduct, wrongful search and seizure, conditions of confinement, and juvenile justice. Through interviews with leading jurists, attorneys, activists, and politicians, we developed a project with MacArthur focused on improving community engagement and advocacy so that Mississippians can advocate for themselves against injustices in the criminal legal system. This initiative has meant a lot to me because I lost my cousin Ronnie “Pie” Shorter in a police shooting during my 1L year. It gives me hope that our project may help Mississippians better advocate  against  injustices  like what happened to Ronnie and continues to happen to so many others in Mississippi and around the  country.

In my time with MDP, we’ve worked with Mississippi-based organizations fighting to get access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for those who have served their sentence for felony convictions, improved access to reproductive health for youth, and help make the City of Jackson zero-waste.  I could not have  asked  for a better place to start building my career as a lawyer in the ongoing Freedom Struggle. I am excited to  see MDP continue its great work and look forward to cheering on as an alum.