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It has been said that “The Price of Freedom Is Eternal Vigilance.” For Black New Yorkers, this credo applies directly to our freedom, not just our liberty as individuals, but our collective liberation in the United States. It calls for us to understand our history, accept the reality of the present, and effectively, collectively act on achieving full freedom.

In the mid-1980s, it was a series of well-publicized police murders of unarmed Black men, women, and children by NYPD, that lead Black activists to call for the creation of the Center for Law And Social Justice. The Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) is the only legal racial justice organization focusing on issues affecting Black New Yorkers. CLSJ was in the lead when an independent, truly Civilian Complaint Review Board was created in New York City in the 1990’s. Now, in 2015, thirty years later, CLSJ continues to push for meaningful governmental changes to arrest and stem this horrific, widespread aspect of systemic racism in New York City and across the U.S. Due to the persistent pressure of many voices joined together, after decades of demands, New York State now has its first dedicated statewide Special Prosecutor to investigate police killings of unarmed New Yorkers. Currently, there is continued advocacy to open up or completely eliminate the grand jury in these types of cases, and to legislatively appoint a permanent Special Prosecutor. CLSJ is staying on freedom and justice.

In the 21st century, disparities and systemic discrimination affect so many aspects of Black lives in New York City. In addition to police abuse and misconduct, CLSJ is focusing on:

  • Protecting Black voting rights;
  • The poor quality public education in both charter and district schools K-1 available to Black students; and
  • The sparse availability of free, quality immigration legal services.

Understanding that the quest for freedom must be addressed across the 360° of our lives, CLSJ collaborates with several community and public interest organizations on other major issues such as:

  • Criminalization and dehumanization of our youth -- “the school to prison pipeline;”
  • The persistence of hunger and Black neighborhoods as “food deserts;”
  • The invisibility of Black neighborhoods in regard to environmental and climate justice threats to our lives and health;
  • The scarcity of jobs and the high unemployment rate of Black New Yorkers; and
  • Gentrification and housing rights for tenants in Central Brooklyn.

Like most of our sister social justice organizations, CLSJ is much leaner than in years earlier but we are very strategic in how we labor. In 2015, CLSJ used our expertise in education equity to legally challenge the validity of the admission process for New York City’s high quality specialized high schools with a coalition of public interest civil rights legal groups and progressive education organizations and advocated at the city and state levels for a legislative and executive policy changes. In addition, the Center sponsored a series of advocacy workshops at Medgar Evers College for public school parents and did so in collaboration with the College’s Pipeline Program. We also assisted in a citywide education advocacy group in drafting model legislation to replace mayoral control of the public schools with a democratic human rights-based educational system.

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of 1965 federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) which aims to protect the voting rights of racial minorities in the U.S. CLSJ has relied on this historic law since our inception to successfully force the adoption of equitable voting practices and policies in NYC by state and city governments. CLSJ has intentionally used this anniversary occasion to remind the public that the powerful Voting Rights Act that we are celebrating (and that was the focus of the film SELMA) was, in large part, gutted in 2014 by a Supreme Court decision. CLSJ has been urging New Yorkers to stay in the present by advocating for the full restoration of Section Four and Five of the VRA by the U.S. Congress and for keeping New York City covered by its provisions.

Immigration reform is necessary, but until enacted, CLSJ has been servicing NYC immigrants seeking legalization, work permits, or to become citizens by providing free legal services in those areas, as staffing and resources permits. CLSJ’s Immigration Law Program has been operating for nine years and has serviced thousands of immigrants and their families.

Finally, please join me in wishing Attorney Joan P. Gibbs and Oseye Mchawi every success in their departure from CLSJ and onto new ventures. THANK YOU, JOAN and OSEYE! Join me in welcoming our new staff members who joined the organization this fall.

The causes for freedom are many; the need for the Center for Law and Social Justice has never been greater. Let’s keep “Staying on Freedom and Justice” together.

Pamoja Tutashinda! Together we shall win! (Kiswahili)
Esmeralda Simmons, Esq.
Executive Director

Our Mission Statement

The Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) is a community-based legal organization that specializes in addressing racial justice issues. CLSJ provides quality legal advocacy, trainings, and research services in a personal manner to people of African descent and the disenfranchised.

Our Vision Statement

The Center for Law and Social Justice's vision is to be a resource for the liberation of African people in order to achieve a world that will equally distribute societies and natures wealth to everyone, such that they are able to realize their highest creative potential and enjoy their cultural, economic, political, and social rights.

To learn more about the work and how you can sustain it, read more (PDF).
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