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Inaugural Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellows work for social justice through legal service

Jasmyne Moore and Maggie Fagala receive fellowship awards at the 2023 Breonna Taylor Lecture on Structural Inequity. Pictured are Jasmyne Moore, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, Maggie Fagala and Melanie Jacobs, dean of Brandeis Law School.
Jasmyne Moore and Maggie Fagala receive fellowship awards at the 2023 Breonna Taylor Lecture on Structural Inequity. Pictured (l to r) are: Jasmyne Moore, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, Maggie Fagala and Melanie Jacobs, dean of Brandeis Law School.

The University of Louisville announced a $1 million donation in April 2022 from Amy Sherald, the artist who painted the iconic Breonna Taylor portrait that appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in 2020. The donation was designated to fund the Brandeis School of Law’s Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowships and the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship for undergraduates. The gift was the result of distributions from the trust Sherald established through the sale of the painting to the Speed Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The annual fellowship awards stipends of $9,000 for up to three law school students with 60 or more credit hours who secure a legal volunteer position over the summer with a social justice nonprofit organization or agency.

The 2023 inaugural fellows, Margaret (Maggie) Fagala and Jasmyne Moore, are now graduating with their law degrees and will participate in the school’s convocation on May 12. UofL News followed up to learn more about their fellowship experiences and how it has inspired their future goals.

UofL NewsWhat was your reaction when you learned you had been selected for the Breonna Taylor fellowship?

Fagala: I felt incredibly excited and very, very thankful. It’s hard to explain how grateful I was for the financial help. There is a lot of work in legal spaces that are entry level positions or internships and not with big law firms or personal injury work; if you want to do public service, they’re usually unpaid. The fellowship is designed for this, and it’s great there’s an opportunity for people who are accepting those jobs that don’t offer money or very little money to help offset the financial costs. This fellowship made it easier for me to take that unpaid job and still pay rent.

Moore:  I loved it. Often public service work, especially for minority communities, does go severely underpaid – if paid at all. I think this was the right step for UofL which is dealing with a lot of the DEI issues.

UofL NewsWhere did you complete your fellowship and what kind of legal work was involved? What was one of your biggest takeaways?

Fagala: I spent my summer with work focused mostly on capital cases in my home state of North Carolina. The biggest thing that I took away from my experience was just a better knowledge of the way that the death penalty is being used as a weapon across the country. There are multiple variances in how different states use the death penalty, but in any place where human beings are still capable of being sentenced to die, I can’t think of a more powerful weapon than the ability to leverage a person’s life. 

Moore: I worked at a local nonprofit called Hope Village, which helps clothe, feed, and provide other services for the unhoused and some of the population with mental health challenges. I was able to help them prepare contracts and do house general counseling.

My biggest takeaway was seeing many similar Black women doing similar work as me –  women that could have been Breonna Taylor. Being in rooms with them helped to empower me. In Kentucky, there are fears with new initiatives surrounding diversity coming down the pipeline. There is a phenomenon of “brain drain” and it felt good being in a room of similar minded, similarly educated people all struggling to figure out how to keep us. There’s just not a lot of incentive for young people to stay in Kentucky. Just being able to help with my little bit of experience in property law – to help Hope Village secure a new building with no liens attached – that was a big victory and a milestone.

UofL NewsWhat influence did your fellowship experience have on your future career plans?

Moore: I think it just solidified my intent. Even before law school, I was politically active. I believe that I have done everything I could with my bachelor’s degree in political science, law, and public policy. Now, my JD (juris doctorate) degree is going to give me and my community a chance to fight even bigger battles that we just don’t know are on the horizon.

UofL News: How does the legacy of Breonna Taylor continue to inspire you?

Fagala: It’s something that has really impacted my life in a unique way because I’m not from Louisville. I wasn’t here when it happened, but I was very aware of it and now, since coming to school here and being given this fellowship, her life and her legacy have affected me in a way that I never expected. I hope that I will be able to carry that opportunity the fellowship gave me into my career and give back, because that’s what the fellowship is designed for – people who are in any way doing the work that needs to be done.

Moore: When I am applying to more conservative fellowships or with conservative judges, I remove all my Kentucky Young Dems work, in fact I remove a lot of stuff. One thing I will never remove is being an inaugural Breonna Taylor Fellow, because a Black woman had to die for me to become that. I think this experience gave me hope that those with the means to do so will support people whose work they admire. Being on the list of Forty under 40, or 25 Attorneys to Watch in the Future; all those titles are beautiful, but they don’t pay my bills. I think people are realizing that if you want the work to continue, whether you are doing it or not, you do have to find a way to support those doing the work.

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