Currently, the voting rights of Black New Yorkers are challenged by a number of recent court decisions and election practices. For example, due to Shelby v. Holder, a 2014 US Supreme Court decision, the Black voters of NYC are no longer protected by the strong preventive controls of Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act. This CLSJ project is focused on election protection by monitoring and conducting comprehensive legal research on such changes and advocating against adverse proposed election procedures. CLSJ also conducts community forums and outreach and public speaking, we also testify at public hearings, litigate, and build alliances with other progressive public interest organizations.
The Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) came into being to address the escalation of police killings in our community. Hundreds of Blacks and Latinos fell victim to police harassment, beatings, killings, and unjustified incarcerations. The impunity of the police outraged the community. One of many responses to this brutality came from a group of activists attorneys: Michael Warren, Alton Maddox, C. Vernon Mason and Esmeralda Simmons; the Revs. Herbert Daughtry and Timothy Mitchell and Father Lawrence Lucas; and community activists: Dave Walker and Jitu Weusi. They agreed to develop an institution committed to the lawful resistance of police brutality and advocated for its creation. Assemblyman Roger Green, along with his then chief of staff, Adeyemi Bandele, provided the initial funds from the New York state budget which made the Center for Law and Social Justice a reality in 1986.
In later years, the Center received grants from a variety of funding sources which enabled us to carry out our work. CLSJ’ funders have included: HUD, the NY State Education Department, the New York City Council, foundations and charities such as the New York Community Trust, the Open Society, the New York Foundation, Community Service Society, Concord Baptist Church’s Christ Fund, as well as individual donations. Since its inception, the Center’s staff has consisted of activists/professionals from all walks of life. Their blend is unique in that they embodied the spirit and aspiration of the people we serve. The CENTER FOR LAW AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (CLSJ) is a unit in the School of Professional and Community Development at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.
The mission and vision of CLSJ is to provide quality advocacy, training, and expert services in a personal manner to people of African descent and the disenfranchised. CLSJ seeks to accompany its mission by conducting research, and initiating advocacy project and litigation on behalf of community organizations and groups that promote human, national, and international understanding.
CLSJ sponsors advocacy projects and litigation in areas as diverse as housing and employment discrimination, police and racial violence, public education, voting rights, immigration, and United States human rights violations. Because of its unique combination of research, public policy advocacy and litigation from a community-based perspective, CLSJ is a focal point for progressive activity.
Esmeralda Simmons is the founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice in Brooklyn, New York. The Center is a small but very effective community-based legal advocacy and research institution that is a unit of Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. Prior to founding the Center, Esmeralda had already had an accomplished career as: the First Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights for New York State, and as a Civil Rights Attorney for the US Department of Education, a New York State Assistant Attorney General, and a New York City Assistant Corporation Counsel. She had also served as a law clerk to a federal judge.
In addition, she has served on several major public boards in New York City government, e.g., the NYC Board of Education, and the NYC Districting Commission. Currently, Esmeralda also volunteers her skills by serving on the Board of Directors for the Applied Research Center, the Fund for Social Change and the Vallecitos Mountain Refuge, Inc., and as a selection committee member for several fellowships and grants for activists, parents, and youth.
An activist and a leader, she has been involved in the community empowerment movement in Central Brooklyn and in progressive political causes for over thirty-five years. As an attorney, she specializes in racial justice issues, such as quality public education for students of color, voting rights, and cultural rights. She chooses to work locally with community organizations using advocacy, community education, coalition-building, and organizing methods, as well as civil rights and human rights legal tools. Esmeralda is a deeply spiritual woman who is grounded in African culture. She finds constant inspiration in the vision of her ancestors, her belief in peace, and her respect for life and cultural diversity.