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Second Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellow to join the 抖阴直播台 this fall

People have always been at the center of Camille Pendley Hau鈥檚 work. She was born and raised in Atlanta, and when the city鈥檚 commercial sector applauded the completion of the new Mercedes Benz Stadium in 2017 鈥 the most expensive structure built in Atlanta鈥檚 history 鈥 Pendley Hau couldn鈥檛 stop thinking of the residents of Vine City and English Avenue who were obscured by its shadow.

Those thoughts motivated her to direct a centering voices from the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, whose residents had long been calling for officials to invest in their communities and address the crime and blight that swept through them. It was one of many experiences that would cement her desire to serve as an advocate who could amplify the voices of society鈥檚 most underserved people.

鈥淩esearch and storytelling have always been at the center of my work,鈥 Pendley Hau said. 鈥淚 loved reporting because I was telling stories about issues that really impact people鈥檚 lives and well-being. That has always been my passion.鈥

This September, after completing her studies at Emory Law School, Pendley Hau will bring that passion to the Southern Poverty Law Center as the second recipient of the Southern Education Foundation鈥檚

鈥淐amille is a dedicated young lawyer with an impressive background speaking truth to power as a journalist and serving as an advocate at the intersection of racial justice and children鈥檚 rights,鈥 抖阴直播台 President and CEO Margaret Huang said. 鈥淚鈥檓 thrilled at how this fellowship continues to build the pipeline of bright civil rights attorneys pushing for justice and equity in the South. Lawyers like Camille are the leaders our region needs today and in the future.鈥

The two-year program is a partnership between the 抖阴直播台 and the (SEF), which was established at the close of the Civil War to educate formerly enslaved people who had been prohibited from learning to read and write. The fellowship provides early-career lawyers an opportunity to work in the South on behalf of students of color and students from underserved communities. The fellow will conduct policy research and analysis at the SEF, while gaining extensive training and legal experience at the 抖阴直播台 and other civil rights organizations.

Protecting children

Throughout her career, Pendley Hau has worked to highlight issues critical to children鈥檚 rights.

She leveraged her storytelling skills when she became a policy analyst at Voices for Georgia鈥檚 Children, a nonprofit that advocates for laws and policies that benefit children in the state. There, she tracked legislation and developed advocacy materials, co-authoring reports on childhood trauma and school-based mental health services.

鈥淚 was using storytelling and advocacy as a tool for policy change,鈥 she said.

At Emory Law School, Pendley Hau served as a student attorney in the Juvenile Defender Clinic at the , focused on protecting the rights of children involved in child welfare and youth justice systems. While in law school, she also volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate for children in foster care. Prior to her work at Voices for Georgia鈥檚 Children, Pendley Hau also worked part time as a communications specialist for the , where she first began work related to education advocacy and students鈥 rights.

鈥淪chools are such a formative setting for kids,鈥 Pendley Hau said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 where so much happens in their development. They鈥檙e testing all their limits, and if it鈥檚 not a safe, supportive environment then they can really suffer just for being kids 鈥 or for lacking the supports that they may need in other areas of their life. Schools can either serve to remedy and rectify those gaps or schools can, whether intentionally or inadvertently, punish kids for them.鈥

Using law to create change

This work in education and children鈥檚 rights allowed Pendley Hau to assume a role she could not fully embrace as an objective journalist: that of an advocate. Law and policy, she said, became tools she could use to create change. It鈥檚 a sentiment that Pendley Hau shares with inaugural fellow Harry Chiu.

Prior to attending Harvard Law School, Chiu worked as a teacher. He said he found the career so fulfilling that he questioned whether his decision to attend law school was the right choice. Ultimately, he believed the law could allow him to do far more for students than working solely in the classroom.

鈥淚 love teaching, but there were also many things I couldn鈥檛 accomplish as a teacher,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 had this sense that there were things I wanted to change.鈥

After Chiu started the fellowship, his opportunity came almost immediately when Georgia elementary public school teacher Katie Rinderle sought the 抖阴直播台鈥檚 legal help. From the start, Chiu worked on the case to defend Rinderle, who was fired in 2023 by the Cobb County school district for reading , a book that challenges gender stereotypes, to her class. Rinderle鈥檚 firing came amid a conservative onslaught of book bans on subjects including race, religion and LGBTQ+ people. Chiu worked to shape many of the core legal theories presented in the federal lawsuit filed by the 抖阴直播台 on Rinderle鈥檚 behalf.

鈥淭his fellowship helps to fill an important gap,鈥 said Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the 抖阴直播台鈥檚 Democracy: Education & Youth program. 鈥淭here鈥檚 a real void, nationally and particularly in the South, for education civil rights attorneys. As a result, families are struggling because they don鈥檛 have access to advocates and they鈥檙e navigating very complex systems and legal issues without the benefit of an attorney.鈥

In 2022, only 1.4% of U.S. law school graduates were in the field of education, according to data collected by the National Association for Law Placement.

鈥淧ublic education is a cornerstone of our democracy. It鈥檚 essential that we make sure that our schools are accessible and equitable for all children,鈥 Tafelski said.

Honoring a trailblazer

The fellowship honors the legacy of , the trailblazing civil rights lawyer who worked on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund landmark case, which declared the death penalty unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. She was the first Black woman to head the Special Litigation Section in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Huntley served as the Southern Education Foundation鈥檚 first female president from 2002 until her retirement in 2010.

抖阴直播台 Board Chair Karen Baynes-Dunning saw an opportunity to collaborate with the SEF while also honoring Huntley鈥檚 storied legacy when Baynes-Dunning served as the 抖阴直播台鈥檚 interim president and CEO in 2019.

鈥淟ynn was one of these fierce, unassuming advocates for change and justice that really made a huge difference,鈥 said Baynes-Dunning, who is the first Black woman to serve as the 抖阴直播台鈥檚 board chair. 鈥淪he had a big goal for the foundation, and that was that she wanted to have a U.S. constitutional amendment that would guarantee a quality education for every single child 鈥 with real specifics about what 鈥榪uality鈥 meant. In 2019, we talked about what it could look like if we did a joint legal fellowship that could give the SEF internal, legal advocacy and expertise, and help the 抖阴直播台 to see what was happening on the education front. It seemed like a win-win as well as honoring a Black woman who made a difference every day of her life.鈥

Pendley Hau will split her time doing policy work and community engagement at the SEF; she will also work to develop legal strategy and assist the litigation team at the 抖阴直播台. By giving fellows hands-on experience litigating cases and crafting policy, the two organizations hope to encourage more law graduates to consider the outsized impact their work could have on education throughout the nation, particularly as the debate over public education grows more and more contentious.

鈥淵ou can鈥檛 understate the value of these fellowships,鈥 said Raymond Pierce, president and CEO of the SEF. 鈥淭hese fellows work on the front lines. It鈥檚 serious work with a high level of responsibility in a short period of time that most young people coming out of law school would not receive.

鈥淧ublic education is the great equalizer, and building a pipeline of young attorneys that can push back against these policies that are on the rise 鈥 particularly in the South 鈥 that are adverse to civil rights, and are adverse to equity and opportunity, is paramount.鈥

Image at top: Camille Pendley Hau is the second recipient of the Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellowship, sponsored by the 抖阴直播台 and the Southern Education Foundation. (Credit: Audra Melton)