The Mississippi Center for Justice opened its doors in 2003 with a simple mission: dismantling the policies that keep Mississippi at the bottom of nearly every indicator of human well-being and deny African-American and lower-income Mississippians the opportunity to advance themselves.
Today, progress is being made. As a home-grown public interest law firm, the Center is advancing racial and economic justice through an approach that combines legal services with policy advocacy, community education and media outreach. The Center partners with national, regional and community organizations to develop and implement campaigns designed to create better futures for low-income Mississippians and communities of color in the areas of educational opportunity, financial security, healthcare, affordable housing and other vital issues.
Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
Mississippi Center for Justice was organized to address the urgent need to re-establish in-state advocacy on behalf of low-income people and communities of color. Since its beginnings, the Center has advanced social and economic justice in Mississippi by:
Attorney Vangela M. Wade has a long-standing connection to MCJ, having joined the Board of Directors in 2016 and served as Secretary/Treasurer, Chair of the Audit Committee, and Chair of the Board of Directors. She currently serves as MCJ’s president and CEO. Vangela began The Wade Law Firm, PLLC, after building a diverse and distinguished resume as a lawyer. Her background also includes working as a law clerk with the Mississippi Court of Appeals, a special prosecutor with the Madison/Rankin County District Attorney’s Office, and as a corporate defense attorney with local and national employment law firms. She has also served as an adjunct law professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. In addition to her legal experience, she advised public and private employers and organizations as a consultant in matters involving diversity and fair employment practices. Vangela currently serves on the board of Mississippi Today, and served on the board of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School for eight years. She earned her BA from Mississippi State University and her juris doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Law. With over 23 years of experience in Mississippi Law, Vangela is dedicated to the fight against Mississippi’s culture of injustice by seeking systemic solutions to ensure equity in the lives of all Mississippians.
Martha serves as founder/senior counsel at the Center. Prior to founding MCJ, she was a national advocate for equal justice under law in Washington, DC, serving tenures as president and executive vice president of the Legal Services Corporation, which administers federal funding for legal aid programs, and as senior vice president for programs at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, where she directed the NLADA/Center for Law and Social Policy’s Project for the Future of Equal Justice. For the first 14 years of her legal career, Martha practiced civil rights and poverty law in Hattiesburg, MS, where she was the founding executive director of Southeast Mississippi Legal Services (now Mississippi Center for Legal Services). Martha is a former Reginald Heber Smith Fellow and the 1990 recipient of the Kutak-Dodds Prize for her civil rights and legal aid work in her home state of Mississippi. In 2003, she was named the Stern Family Fund’s Public Interest Pioneer, an honor which came with a $200,000 grant to launch Mississippi Center for Justice. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Oberlin College, earned her law degree cum laude at the University of Michigan Law School, and holds an honorary doctorate of public service from Millsaps College.
Reilly serves as General Counsel of the Mississippi Center for Justice. A third-generation Gulf Coast lawyer who began work at the Center just weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, he has served as managing director of the Center starting in 2013 and policy director starting in 2011. As co-director of housing and community development campaigns, Reilly led the Center’s multi-year campaign to provide essential legal services to hurricane survivors and ensure fairness in the recovery process. He negotiated an agreement between Mississippi and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to extend $172 million in housing repairs to 6,000 families excluded from previous housing recovery programs. Prior to joining the Center in 2005, he spent 11 years in insurance and commercial litigation, followed by nine years as a solo and public interest attorney. Reilly is co-founder of the Steps Coalition and has served on the boards of Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation, Hope Community Development Agency, and Moore Community House. He received the 2006 Edwin Wolf public interest lawyer award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the 2010 legal award from the Mississippi Conference NAACP. Reilly is a magna cum laude graduate of Millsaps College and received his juris doctorate from University of Mississippi Law School. He is married with two daughters.
Monica serves as operations director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, a position she has held since the Center’s founding in 2002. Monica oversees the Center’s financial, administrative, and operations functions. Monica is a native of Jackson and graduate of Jackson State University’s School of Business. Following graduation, Monica was hired by Atlantic Richfield Corporation’s Dallas-based oil and gas division. During her career with ARCO, she lived in Texas, Colorado, and California working in various corporate divisions in the areas finance, business process engineering, and system implementations. She also worked on various projects in Australia and Mexico. Monica is the proud mother of one daughter, Paige.
Beth serves as advocacy director with the Mississippi Center for Justice. In this capacity, Beth manages the Center’s policy campaigns and oversees the work of the staff attorneys. Beth also assists families in cleaning up titles to family property in heirship situations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of Tennessee. Prior to joining the Center, Beth practiced law with Butler Snow, Ott & Purdy, and McGlinchey Stafford law firms in Jackson, and she has been involved as a volunteer with a wide variety of organizations. She and her husband Steve, also an attorney, have raised three sons, Abram, Jonathan, and Benjamin.
Linda serves as the health law director at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a position she has held since November 2008. Prior to joining the Center, she was the assistant secretary of state for elections for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, where she previously held the position of senior attorney and director of elections training and education. She received a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Southern University at New Orleans and her law degree from Mississippi College School of Law. is a member of the Mississippi Bar and the Magnolia Bar Association. She serves on the Southern AIDS Coalition Board of Directors, the steering committee of the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative, Board of Common Cause Mississippi, and Mississippi Sickle Cell Foundation Board.
John serves as the managing attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice office in Biloxi, MS and also serves as housing law director. He is a founding staff member of the Center’s Katrina Recovery Office, which opened its doors in October 2005 to provide legal advocacy to tens of thousands of residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, he received the President’s Award from the Mississippi Bar Young Lawyers Division for his legal work on behalf of renters in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. John’s pre-Katrina solo practice in Ocean Springs focused on consumer housing, employment discrimination, and personal injury law. He previously served on the pro bono panel of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and was project manager of the Fair Housing Education Outreach Project funded by HUD at South Mississippi Legal Services. During his 10 years with Southeast Mississippi Legal Services in Hattiesburg, he was a housing and consumer law specialist and served as litigation director. From 1994-95, John was a clinical professor in the University of Mississippi School of Law Housing Law Clinic. A graduate of Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi School of Law, he began his legal career as a law clerk to Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Lenore Prather. He is the author of “Two Years After The Storm: The State Of Katrina Housing Recovery On The Mississippi Gulf Coast,” 77 Miss. L. J. 873 (2008).
Charles leads the economic justice work as consumer protection director. Prior to joining the Center, Charles practiced commercial litigation, insurance defense, and personal injury litigation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Georgia. Charles was the founding board president of the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center in Gulfport, MS and also served as interim executive director immediately following Hurricane Katrina. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from Rust College in 1995 and received his juris doctorate in 1998 from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Charles lives in Jackson and is an active member of Epiphany Lutheran Church.
Amelia Steadman McGowan serves as director of immigration law. Amelia is also an adjunct professor at Mississippi College School of Law, where she teaches Immigration Law and has directed the school’s Immigration Clinic since its founding in 2015. Amelia comes to MCJ from Catholic Charities of Jackson, where she served as the Program Director of the agency’s immigration legal services program. As an immigration attorney, Amelia has focused her practice on asylum representation (affirmative and defensive claims) and immigration appeals, representing clients before the Board of Immigration Appeals as well as the Fifth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits. In addition to her direct client representation, Amelia has also worked to coordinate and mentor pro bono attorneys to represent Mississippi immigrants in removal proceedings as well as organize community outreach and education sessions on immigration-related topics throughout the state. Amelia is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi Honors College, where she earned her BA in history and Spanish and participated in study abroad/cultural exchange programs in Vietnam and Panama, as well as Tulane University, where she received her JD and MA in Latin American Studies. Amelia is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Brazilian Portuguese.
Paloma Wu is the Deputy Director of the George Riley Impact Litigation Campaign. With a focus on systemic reform and class actions, she has litigated civil rights and civil liberties matters challenging racial bias in policing, the indefinite detention of persons with disabilities, racial discrimination in police hiring, conditions of confinement in detention facilities, lifetime voting bans, and matters upholding free speech and LGBT equality. Paloma has served as the Acting Senior Supervising Attorney for Criminal Justice Reform for the Southern Poverty Law Center and as the Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. At Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, an international law firm, Paloma represented corporate clients in antitrust and securities matters and pro bono clients in civil rights and asylum matters. Prior to becoming an attorney, Paloma was a capital defense investigator in California’s state habeas unit and was a member of the litigation team representing a class of all California prisoners with mental illness. She presents nationally on constitutional law and criminal justice reform.
Max is an attorney on MCJ’s Immigration team where he represents individuals, advocates for issues of immigrant and racial justice across the state, and supports pro bono attorneys taking on immigration cases. Max moved to Mississippi in 2010 and lived in the Delta for five years where he taught fourth and fifth grade in Sunflower County Public Schools and trained new teachers across several Delta counties. Max began at MCJ as a legal fellow after graduating from the UC Davis School of Law. He joined MCJ staff in 2019.
Will serves as a staff attorney in the Center’s Biloxi office. Will reports to the Housing Law Director and supports two related projects: (1) A Fair Housing Act Education and outreach project designed to inform Mississippians about their rights under the Fair Housing Act; and (2) A Fair Housing Act enforcement project designed to investigate and prosecute claims of housing discrimination in Mississippi. Will is originally from Hattiesburg, MS. He graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi with a BA in public policy leadership and graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 2018. He immediately joined the Center after graduation. With help from the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi and the Gulf Restoration Network, Will first partnered with the Center during the summer of 2016 and drafted a white paper detailing Clean Water Act violations by publicly-owned treatment works in the Mississippi delta. Will had previously provided consultation to the United States Forest Service. During law school, Will served as an advanced student in the Low-Income Housing Clinic. He also interned for Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Dawn H. Beam and the National Sea Grant Law Center.
Kiara serves as the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, working to remove re-entry barriers to employment and housing through expungements, pardons, and license reinstatements throughout the state. She holds a bachelor of arts in sociology and a master of science in sociology from Mississippi State University. While working as a graduate research assistant under Dr. Melvin Ray at the MSU Office of Research and Economic Development, Kiara’s research was heavily focused on the socioeconomic issues affecting poor and minority children and families in Mississippi, which caused her to realize the need for lawyers committed to social and economic justice in her home state. She received her juris doctorate and graduate degree of comparative law from Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University. While in law school, she devoted her spare time to public interest law, serving as the pro bono co-chair of the school’s Public Interest Law Society and volunteering at the Baton Rouge Family Court Pro Se Help Desk. During her summer and winter breaks, she interned at the Mississippi Center for Justice, conducting legal research and helping with the Fair Housing Campaign. Kiara was also selected to participate in a first-of-its-kind law school clinic, where she and three other students were trained to assess the special legal needs of and authorized to provide legal representation for survivors of sexual assault under the supervision of Baton Rouge STAR Legal Director Morgan Lamandre. Kiara plans to focus most of her career on civil rights and social/economic justice in the South.
Seirra serves as the Christina Bergmark Fellow in our Jackson and Indianola offices. In this role, she focuses on removing re-entry barriers to employment by helping clients expunge their criminal records and/or regain professional licenses and educating the community about re-entry, expungement, and employment law. She holds a bachelor of science in paralegal studies from the University of Mississippi and a master of public administration from Belhaven University. She received her juris doctorate from Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. During law school, Seirra served as a student attorney for the Family Law Clinic and the Juvenile Lifers Without Parole Clinic serving indigent clients. She has interned with the Office of State Public Defenders in the indigent appeals division in Jackson, MS and the Earl Carl Institute in Houston, TX with a commitment to identify, address, and offer solutions to issues that affect traditionally urban and disenfranchised communities. Prior to joining the MCJ team, Seirra interned with Mississippi Center for Justice providing assistance to the expungement campaign with efforts to eliminate barriers to employment.
Sponsored by the Friends and Family of Philip M. Stern, Amelia serves as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Center’s Biloxi office. In that role, Amelia supports the Educational Opportunities Campaign and focuses on assisting students who have been suspended and expelled from schools. Amelia is a magna cum laude graduate of Pepperdine University and received her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. At Michigan Law, Amelia was an executive online editor of the Michigan Law Review and served as a student attorney in the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic. She interned for the Honorable Neal B. Biggers, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi; the US Department of Justice in the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC; and the Federal Defender Office in Detroit, Michigan. Prior to law school, Amelia was a third grade teacher and Teach For America Corps Member in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Amelia was Clarksdale Municipal School District’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.
Theodora serves as the financial manager for the Mississippi Center for Justice. She is a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). She holds an undergraduate degree in accounting from Florida A&M University, and a master’s degree in business administration from Alcorn State University. Theodora is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Mississippi Society of CPAs, the National Association of Black Accountants, the Institute of Internal Auditors, and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Theodora has more than 20 years of accounting experience. She has been employed in the areas of state government, public accounting, nonprofit, and higher education. Prior to coming to the Center she was employed as the comptroller of Alcorn State University.
Denise serves as a legal assistant with the Mississippi Center for Justice, a position she has held since August 2006. In her capacity with the Center, Denise provides critical organizational support for clinic outreach, client in-take and processing, and general case management. Denise has a long history of providing support to non-profit organizations, including experience with Back Bay Mission, South Mississippi Legal Services Corp., the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force, and Moore Community House in Biloxi, MS. Prior to joining the Center, Denise also gained valuable legal experience working with Gillespie & Blessey Law Firm on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Denise is also an active volunteer with numerous organizations that promote healthy choices for teens and youths.
Yumekia serves as a legal assistant in the Center’s Indianola office. Prior to joining the Center, she worked as an employment interviewer and MS STEPS representative with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security at the Indianola WIN Job Center. In this role, she negotiated contracts with businesses to place unemployed people back into the workforce. Yumekia also worked as the fiscal officer for the Delta Housing Development Corporation, an organization dedicated to providing safe and affordable housing to low-income families. She gained experience in office management through years of implementing administrative operations for various organizations. Yumekia obtained a bachelor of arts in general business administration from Delta State University on scholarship from Phi Theta Kappa and recently obtained a master of business administration at Delta State University. She spends her spare time with her children, Sakita, V’Deshion, and Yujaira, and volunteers for several Delta area organizations working to foster healthier communities.
LaShay serves a community organizer in the Center’s Jackson office. Melton is a native of Okolona, Mississippi, and holds a bachelor of arts in political science from Tougaloo College and an associate of science in paralegal technology from Holmes Community College. Prior to joining the Center, she was employed at Hinds County Chancery Court as a deputy clerk. Following Hurricane Katrina, she worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a grants specialist, conducting the review and compliance of approved grant projects. Melton is a member of the Holmes Association of Legal Students and resides in Madison, MS with her two children and spouse.
Monica Spires serves as administrative assistant to the president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice and as office coordinator for the Jackson office. Before joining MCJ, Monica served as a legal assistant and special programs coordinator for The Wade Law Firm. Monica is a junior at Jackson State University, where she is studying at the School of Business for a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Monica holds an associate of arts degree in health care administration and a certificate in health and wellness from the University of Phoenix. Monica has served as a member specialist for Humana, office lead and customer service representative for Lineage Logistics, and customer retention specialist for Comcast. Monica has over 10 years of administrative, customer service, and office experience and is a member of the American Society for Administrative Professionals.
Michelle Colon is MCJ’s donor relations coordinator. Michelle pursued an undergraduate degree at Jackson State University, where she interned at the MS Women’s Resource Center and was a social justice and feminist activist and organizer. She completed her work study at the Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center. Upon graduation, she interned with Project Vote Smart, a national political research library in Montana, and the AFL-CIO, SEIU Local 1 in Chicago. In 2003, she returned to Mississippi to begin her graduate work in political science and public policy. For a decade, Michelle found fulfillment working in the non-profit sector as the development and special events director with the Mississippi chapter of JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). She was responsible for all logistics and planning of the chapter’s large scale events including the largest walk-a-thon in the state, the annual Walk to Cure Diabetes. Michelle holds a BA in political science and an MA in political science and public policy.
Nancy Sanchez is the community organizer for MCJ’s Immigration Department. She is working with the communities affected by the August 7, 2019 ICE raids in Central Mississippi. She came to MCJ from Catholic Charities of Jackson, where she served as the Cultural Specialist and outreach person for the agency’s Migrant Support Center.
Jackson, MS – Balch & Bingham
Oakland, CA – Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood
Seattle, WA – Bergman Draper Oslund Udo
Washington, DC – Voices for Civil Justice
Biloxi, MS – Gerald Blessey Law Firm
Washington, DC – National Partnership for Women & Families
Miami, FL – The Lipman Law Firm
Jackson, MS – BankPlus
Pittsburgh, PA – McKnight Realty Partners
Greenville, MS – Delta State University
Washington, DC – Munger, Tolles & Olson
Mississippi Center for Justice seeks current 3L law students or recent graduates interested in working with us to develop fellowship applications such as those offered by Skadden, Equal Justice Works, New Voices, and other law school-based fellowship opportunities. The Center is especially interested in developing projects having to do with community economic development and/or housing on the Gulf Coast; consumer protection, public benefits, immigration and health issues in Jackson; and/or educational advocacy anywhere.
The Alliance to End Hunger is seeking one full-time AmeriCorps VISTA member to work in the Jackson, MS office, with the Hunger Free Community coalitions in Hampton, Virginia to implement anti-hunger strategies. VISTA members support community leaders in identifying food-resource barriers and developing comprehensive end hunger plans.