Liberty City needs Teiya Emenike.
3L Teiya Emenike
As Liberty Square, the oldest housing project in Miami, inches closer toward demolition and renovation, the almost 2,000 current residents brace for displacement. This summer, the newly graduated HOPE Fellow and Tenants' Rights Clinic intern will begin a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. sponsored by the Florida Bar Foundation. The project is aimed squarely at fiercely advocating for tenants of Liberty City, where 47% of the residents live below the poverty line, and 94% of the residents are African-American.
The Liberty Square Rising project is planned as a mixed-income community with condos, townhouses, and apartments as well as shops and parks.
"I want to make sure the people who are there don't get pushed out because of the new development coming up," the 26-year-old says. "I want to make sure they keep their homes. I want to empower them to say, 'you aren't gentrifying this place we built;' to say 'not in our neighborhood.'
"I am there to make sure that is not going to happen,'" she says. "I am there to be a voice and to be an advocate. Housing, to me, is right up there with the biggies: freedom and liberty. Everyone needs a place to go home."
The Midwesterner’s exposure to public interest advocacy was kindled in the Madison County State Attorney's Office in Edwardsville, Illinois as a summer intern home from South Carolina State University, where she studied political science and was the first in her family to graduate from college. (One of her brothers is presently eyeing law schools.)
"I watched kids I grew up with, kids I played with, people from my neighborhood going to jail," says the oldest of four, and the only girl. "It broke my heart. I knew what I had to do. I know what it is like to be black and poor and have people telling you what you can and can't do. I had to achieve as much as opportunity allowed; I had younger brothers watching me."
Arriving at Miami Law, she was not certain about a future in public interest advocacy, but as a HOPE Summer Public Interest Fellow at Legal Services, she developed her passion for tenants’ rights. "It put me face-to-face with the idea that a lawyer is a servant, a vessel," she says. “I am a person first, and the fact that my clients remind me of where I come from keeps me grounded; it keeps me humble."
Emenike spent her rising 2L summer at Community Justice Project assisting marginalized groups to promote social and gender justice, economic justice, and fair and equal housing for the people of Miami. She then continued at Legal Services of Greater Miami throughout her second and third years as both a law clerk and a participant in the Tenants' Rights Clinic.
Although Emenike dearly loves Chicago, her heart is in Liberty City for the next two years. "My clients are my motivation; I want to make a difference for them," she says.