Faber recently announced Madeline Middlebrooks as the recipient of their second two-year Faber Fellowship, which will begin in Fall 2020. A recent graduate of Sturm College of Law, University of Denver, Middlebrooks will implement a multi-dimensional legal and policy strategy to address the lead contamination water crisis in St. Louis Public Schools.
Following the success of their first fellowship with Jen Rasay, Faber decided to once again partner with Equal Justice Works (EJW) to provide this valuable opportunity. With a dedicated commitment to assisting new lawyers in their pursuit of equal justice, the EJW fellowship program is an innovative initiative that removes the financial barriers that often keep attorneys from pursuing public service careers. Having supported over 1700 attorneys with funding, training, and guidance to pursue their public interest dreams, EJW has established itself as the nation's largest provider of post-graduate legal fellowships.
“EJW goes out and encourages law students to consider careers in not-for-profit sector,” said Joe Faber. “One of their primary activities is creating and administrating fellowships through which law firms can provide full financial support for lawyers to provide pro bono legal service to clients who are underserved."
In collaboration with nonprofit organizations throughout the country, applicants design two-year projects that focus on such important issues as homelessness, juvenile justice, immigration, and access to health care. Sponsors then choose which fellow and project they wish to support and supply two-years of economic assistance, providing fellows with the financial assistance they need to work full time on their public service endeavor.
The financial support addresses such costs as salary, insurance benefits, and student loan assistance. But the fellowship is about much more than financial assistance.
Faber noted the firm’s guidance to EJW in seeking candidates for the firm’s consideration differed from many fellowship sponsors. “We invited everyone in the firm to help develop criteria and goals for this fellowship. After extensive discussions, we asked EJW—(1) please find applications from under-supported issue areas (those most lacking in sponsor interest); (2) please find applications from under-supported geographic regions (those most lacking in sponsor interest); and (3) please find applications from minorities and women.”
The firm received a pool of impressive candidates for the firm’s second fellowship. Each applicant submitted a resume, recommendations, and a description of the service program they created in collaboration with a nonprofit organization that agreed to host the fellowship. With a variety of proposals representing a range of very important issues, the firm took a team approach to evaluating the candidates and selecting the finalist.
Kori Kaufman spoke about the fellowship selection. “In general, when looking at a potential Faber Fellow I look at a number of qualities of both the program and the applicant. The program’s relevancy to the general criteria the firm provided Equal Justice Works is important, but I focus on how well defined and achievable the program is during the fellowship period. For the candidate, I look for a driven individual who has direct experience with the program they are looking to have funded. This usually results in a well-drafted proposal and a meaningful presentation to the firm.”
A thorough selection process identified Middlebrooks as the recipient of our second fellowship. “Madeline was just fantastic,” said Kaufman. “Not only is she driven and articulate, she developed a focused project on looking at environmental and basic human resources and rights in a community that she grew up in. Her passion for the fellowship mirrors Faber’s commitment to its clients and to philanthropic endeavors. It just seemed like the fit we were looking for in this process.”
With a proven commitment to equal justice, Middlebrooks will work to address an issue near to her and her family. In certain areas of St. Louis, low income African American children are being exposed to lead while innocently attending school each day. The neighborhood of Middlebrooks’ late grandmother is part of the community being exposed to lead. For years, the St. Louis Public School System has been providing their students with lead contaminated drinking water to the detriment of their health and well-being. Middlebrooks designed a project to address this public health crisis by advocating on behalf of these children and their families utilizing a combination of direct representation and an extensive legislative campaign.
“I’m going to be working with St. Louis Public Schools within a predominantly black area where there is a serious water contamination problem,” explained Middlebrooks. Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, Missouri’s first and only public interest law firm focused on the environment and public health, will host her project. Middlebrooks expressed her gratitude for their involvement in the campaign. “They are a great group of people who are passionate about environmental justice. If they didn’t assist with this effort, no other organization in St. Louis would have the capacity to devote to this particular issue. There are just so many other important issues to address in this area of the city.”
According to Middlebrooks, the project has one main initiative: holding the school system accountable to provide students with clean water. She will accomplish this goal through direct representation under the Safe Drinking Water Act or a statewide legislative claim.
Middlebrooks explained that she will first work on getting bottled water into the schools. She will additionally submit record requests to state government officials and work to establish a coalition of key stakeholders. Middlebrooks also plans to negotiate with St. Louis Public Schools to put short-term safeguards in place to prevent any further contamination. Representation of affected families will also be part of the initiative, with the possible initiation of a Safe Drinking Water Act claim on their behalf.
She also hopes to start a state legislative campaign that ensures more consistent testing for clean water in schools. While spending her final semester of law school interning at Great Rivers, she was disturbed to learn that some of the contaminated water sources had not been tested since 2018.
Developing this service project struck a personal chord with Middlebrooks, especially since the area of St. Louis where she will be working was also home to her late grandmother. From an early age, she recognized the vast inequities between her grandmother’s predominantly African American community and other higher-income areas of St. Louis. “My work with Great Rivers helped confirm that north St. Louis is unfairly affected by environmental injustices. North St. Louis residents are unfairly being exposed to high concentrations of toxic pollutants. I wanted to come home and work within my grandmother’s community. Not only do I get a chance to advocate for people of color, but it is also happening within the community where I first came to care about the law.”
Middlebrooks greatly appreciates the opportunity presented by this fellowship, explaining that her mentor first brought the idea to her attention. “I’ve always been committed to public service. My mentor said that the fellowship would be a great opportunity for me and a great way to start my legal career. I thought I may as well apply.”
“Middlebrooks’ commitment to highlighting the complex intersectionality between environmental issues and racial inequities, combined with her multi-pronged strategy for advocating on behalf of impacted families, are incredibly inspiring,” said Lily Vakili. “The Faber Fellowship will provide meaningful support to the beginnings of what we hope will be an impressive career in public interest law.”
“I am so excited that I get to help these children,” Middlebrooks said. “This really is my dream job. I am going to work so hard to give these children clean water and also make Faber proud of choosing me for this opportunity.” She also wants her work to promote similar initiatives in other cities affected by poor water quality. “Hopefully, this inspires other fellowships, as this problem continues to affect communities around the country. I want to use this fellowship as a tool for teaching people that laws apply differently to different people. Only six blocks away from your community, things may look very different from how the laws work for you.”