Current Fellow 2019-2020

Ismaail Qaiyim

Ismaail, in partnership with the Latin American Coalition (LAC), is  launching the “Eastside-Westside Community Empowerment and Economic Development Initiative.” This project will provide legal services and community based legal education for the purpose of
empowering communities to advocate for affordable housing and anti-displacement efforts at the municipal level. In conjunction with LAC, this project aims to assist communities vulnerable to displacement in Charlotte’s historically African American Westside and increasingly Spanish speaking Eastside.

Displacement in Charlotte, North Carolina is linked to decades of divestment from
predominately African-American neighborhoods that within the span of a few years have
become desirable places for professionals to live. These neighborhoods have remained
segregated zones wherein many of the residents are impoverished and do not have upward
economic mobility. Several studies have shown that Charlotte, NC is one of the most
economically unequal cities in the United States and one of the worst for upward economic
mobility.

This project will provide concrete legal services to homeowners and tenants in older
economically marginalized neighborhoods while helping these populations strategically
organize. The fellow will help with limited estate planning for elderly homeowners that are
in distressed neighborhoods, provide limited counseling and document review for
homeowners from these neighborhoods in danger of facing foreclosure, and will provide
strategic support to tenants that wish to form tenant associations. The fellow will also
provide clinics and seminars to these populations that will inform them of their rights, link
these populations to existing legal services in the area, and will provide shared spaces for
constructive dialogue where people can form social ties and networks of support for
addressing displacement. This model is intended to create an environment where all
recipients of legal services build power and affect policy.

Ismaail believes that legal advocacy is most effective when married to grassroots
mobilization. He is informed by his formal education and experiences working in West
Africa as a researcher and advocate for Friends of the Earth Liberia (SDI Liberia). His time
spent assisting and working alongside tenants fighting for their rights in NYC through
various internships and his legal clinic showed him the centrality of community-based
empowerment in pushing for rights and societal transformation. The culmination of these
experiences has led him to conclude that legal services should truly serve the people.
Ismaail is a recent graduate of CUNY School of Law, and additionally, he holds an MSc in
Violence, Conflict and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),
University of London. Ismaail looks forward to serving the communities in his home city of
Charlotte, NC.