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CLS Blog: Roxanne Jones Fellowship Brings Opportunity, Connections

CLS Blog: Roxanne Jones Fellowship Brings Opportunity, Connections

This summer, Community Legal Services (CLS) was thrilled to establish the Senator Roxanne Jones Fellowship to enable future leaders in public interest law to spend their summer interning at CLS. We created the Fellowship to provide financial support to outstanding law student interns of color. Under the Fellowship, law student interns receive financial support, as well as ongoing mentorship from members of our staff and board. Temple Law students Tiffany Cobb and Brittney Martinez were our inaugural fellowship recipients.

The Fellowship is named for Pennsylvania Senator Roxanne H. Jones, the first black woman to serve in the Pennsylvania Senate.  Senator Jones was a tireless advocate for the needs of low-income women and families, and a strong believer in the importance of legal representation for people living in poverty. As part of her illustrious career, the Senator served as the chair of the Philadelphia Welfare Rights Organization when CLS represented the organization and its members. We were proud to represent Senator Roxanne Jones and were proud to be represented by her when she took over the Senate seat for the district that houses our North Philadelphia office.

Summer internships offer law students practical skills, hands-on learning, and insight into how their coursework informs daily lawyering. In addition, internships open up opportunities for law students in the organizations and fields in which they intern, and many students who successfully complete internships find themselves with job offers or fellowship positions from their host organizations.

For students interested in pursuing public interest law in Philadelphia, there is no greater exposure or experience than working at an organization like CLS for the summer. However, because public interest law firms are often non-profits without the funding to compete with pay that corporate firms offer student interns, or funding to pay interns at all, the decision to intern with a public interest organization is not available to those who cannot afford to be unpaid or underpaid for an entire summer. Because structural and institutional racism have negative economic impacts on communities of color, it is especially important to ensure that students of color who are experiencing financial hardship have resources available to them, so they can further their public interest careers.

That’s why we established this fellowship. Through the fellowship, we aim to offer resources to law students of color with financial need, so they can follow their passion and pursue a public interest internship at CLS.

This summer, Tiffany’s mentors were Kee Tobar, staff attorney for the Youth Justice Project at CLS, and CLS Board member Amber Racine, Esq., of Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer.  Brittney’s mentors were Thu Tran, CLS attorney working on issues of Homeownership and Consumer Rights, and Renee Garcia, Senior Counsel to PNC Bank and CLS Board member.

“The Roxanne Jones Fellowship is an example of Community Legal Services’ commitment to not only pursuing equity, fairness and justice for our clients, but also ensuring that we as an organization reflect said belief in fairness, justice, and equity. Removing barriers for deserving diverse interns is simply one example of this organizational commitment,” writes Kee Tobar, Esq., on why she chose to mentor Tiffany Cobb this summer.

Said Brittney Martinez, a rising 2L at Temple,  “As a first generation college and law student, I am beyond grateful to find an organization who values my contribution to my communities while encouraging me to continue my passion of eliminating environmental injustice for at-risk communities,” she writes. “The Senator Roxanne Jones Fellowship provided me with mentorship and the means to truly get the most out of my internship at CLS this summer.”

Multidimensional mentorship is a unique feature of the Roxanne Jones Fellowship. Brittney’s board mentor, Renee Garcia, Senior Counsel at PNC Bank, was “thrilled to serve as a Board mentor for Brittney,” and recognizes her “eagerness to learn, a thoughtfulness beyond her years, and great pride in the work she is doing this summer at CLS.”  Having connections within and beyond CLS is an essential component of the Fellowship, and helps recipients form institutional connections that are essential to the intern experience. “I expect we will continue this relationship for many years,” writes Garcia. “I will make sure she stays connected to CLS!”