In my three years of law school, more than 700 Black people were shot by police. As I was writing this reflection, I read the story of Mario Gonzalez, a long-time East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) community member, who died after the Alameda County Police Department pinned him to the ground for five minutes—only a day before Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd in a similar fashion. I am writing this reflection from home because we continue to navigate a global pandemic that has had devastating impacts on Black and Brown communities, who bear a disproportionate burden of public health crises and financial crises alike. Law school has been difficult, but the opportunity to be a clinical student at EBCLC—to be a community lawyer, to be a meaningful part of the movement for real, structural change and justice: that meant the world to me.
As our communities continue to grapple with anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-trans violence, and as we see the structures of White supremacy at play at home and across our nation, the work of community-led activists and organizers is ever more important. EBCLC gave me, and so many other students, the opportunity to be among a community of passionate advocates and activists dedicated to change. Using the law to serve community takes many forms, and EBCLC engages its students in advocacy across multiple levels of structural and systemic injustice. Some students focus their clinical experience on courtroom advocacy, others take on different forms of practice and legal challenges that rarely appear in a classroom setting. Our work centers on helping community members facing the burdens of persistent oppression, poverty, and disinvestment—providing support to clients battling eviction, expulsion, or loss of welfare benefits or residency in the country, and extending far beyond the courtroom into nonprofit boardrooms, policy committees, community meetings, forums, focus groups, and encampments.
This work is hard. Systems and structures are daunting opponents. There is so much to be done, and so little time to do it. But EBCLC does this work with a joy I will take to every aspect of my future legal career. EBCLC is aptly named. It is, in fact, a community law center, serving the community outside its doors and building the community within—with staff and students that bring a passion and fervor to the everlasting work of justice, and bring compassion, humor, and light to their practice. EBCLC is an engaged and committed advocate for the East Bay community, tied in with local organizations and organizers, seeking to give voice and build power in the community, but it’s also a part of that community, made up of the same artists, creatives, activists, and other brilliant and eclectic people that make the Bay Area special.
My experiences at EBCLC, and specifically in the Community Economic Justice Clinic, have shaped my law school experience in so many ways. I have made new, close friends (both students and supervisors). I have seen first-hand how hard it can be to craft a policy with meaningful community participation that is both legally effective and practically enforceable. I have worked with organizers, legislators, marginalized entrepreneurs, activists, attorneys, and worst of all, Microsoft Outlook. Through it all, I’ve had a passionate team of students, supervisors, and clients helping me, teaching me, and making me excited and proud to actually be a lawyer, not just a law student. People who made me feel like my work was part of our collective mission to make our communities and our world a more equitable place; who gave me a community.
Written by Ezekiel (Zeke) Wald
University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2021
East Bay Community Law Center Community Economic Justice Clinical Student