CJP Receives Harvard Public Service Venture Fund Seed Grant

Harvard Law Today
March 6, 2015

Two recent Harvard Law School graduates, Shannon Erwin ’10 and Alana Greer ’11, have been selected as recipients of grants from the Public Service Venture Fund, a unique program that awards up to $1 million each year to help graduating Harvard Law students and recent graduates obtain their ideal jobs in public service.

The Public Service Venture Fund, a first-of-its kind program at a law school, was launched in 2012 to invite law students and recent alumni to identify unmet legal needs and develop new initiatives to meet them.

Erwin and Greer were chosen based on their vision for how to approach a public service problem or help a particular community. Erwin will work with the Muslim Justice League to combat policies that marginalize Muslims and Greer will work with Community Justice Project to empower young people of color.

Dean Martha Minow said: “The vast unmet legal needs of individuals at risk require more than business as usual.  Shannon and Alana bring vision, creativity, talent, and the resourcefulness of social entrepreneurs to this critical need.  It is a privilege and an honor for Harvard Law School to invest in such work.”

Alexa Shabecoff, assistant dean for public service and director of the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA), who is directing the Fund, said: “We recognize now more than ever the critical need to expand access to justice. Our past Public Service Venture Fund recipients are having a tremendous impact addressing inequities in underserved communities and confronting challenges in the criminal justice system. I am confident that Alana and Shannon, with their amazing skills and passions, will also make great advances in social justice.”

Supporting “seed grants” for start-up public interest ventures and salary support for fellows undertaking projects at existing organizations, the Venture Fund spearheads social entrepreneurship. The selection process is advised by experienced entrepreneurs, and is rigorous and competitive.

Organization-based fellowship awardees for 2014-15 will be announced in May.

2014-15 Seed Grant Recipients

Shannon Erwin ’10 – The Muslim Justice League

The Muslim Justice League, a partnership of lawyers and scholars professionally shaped during the ongoing “War on Terror,” was formed in response to the discrimination, scrutiny and coercion Muslim communities were facing under national security pretexts.  Through MJL, Shannon Erwin ’10 will work to empower Greater Boston communities with tools to end policies and practices that marginalize Muslims and suppress dissent through targeted legal advocacy, community education and mobilization. To this end, MJL will engage in pro bono consultation and representation for persons approached by the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Erwin said: “In addition to the tremendous assistance the Public Service Venture Fund will provide in allowing us to transform this volunteer initiative into a full-time, staffed organization, I hope it may also bring wider attention to the policies that target Muslims as suspect communities and the way those policies erode all our expectations of due process, suppress dissent, inspire divisive suspicion within our communities, and undermine our democracy.”

MJL will lead community education efforts including Know Your Rights trainings; engage in legal and policy advocacy against policies that target Muslims under national security pretext and coordinate local communities to guide and sustain grassroots advocacy.

Alana Greer ’11 – Community Justice Project

The Community Justice Project, a movement lawyering project that was established as a part of Florida Legal Services, provides legal support and tools to a movement for racial and economic justice led by youth of color. Concentrating their efforts in South Florida, CJP co-founders Alana Greer ’11, Human Rights attorney Meena Jagannath, and attorney Charles Elsesser will support grassroots campaigns led by the Dream Defenders and Power U Center for Social Change, among others, to transform the relationships between police and communities, and envision innovative, new approaches to community safety.

Greer said: “We are passionate about supporting young people of color in the struggle for racial justice and Human Rights. These young leaders have focused their energies on ending the plagues of criminalization and police brutality in their schools and communities. By providing legal support, strategic partnerships, and spaces for innovation to these grassroots organizers, we hope that the Community Justice Project, Inc. can bring their vision for a more just and equal world to fruition here in South Florida and beyond. We also hope to share lessons from our experience in community lawyering with legal allies across the country, and together make this type of practice something every corner of the movement has access to.”

They will use a variety of tactics including litigation, policy advocacy, and human rights forums to amplify grassroots organizing on these issues. In recent months, they have also supported the growth of a local movement lawyering infrastructure in Ferguson, Miss., as founding members of the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee, and helped lead a delegation that included Michael Brown’s parents and movement leaders from Ferguson to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The Community Justice Project will continue to work with allies in Florida and beyond so that the voices of those most impacted by systemic and institutional racism are heard and their vision for a more just world becomes a reality.