Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit organization that brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, legal services organizations, and supporters to promote a lifelong commitment to public service and equal justice, announced its 2022 fellow class. WMU-Cooley 2021 graduate Norrel Hemphill has been granted a fellowship hosted by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit, Michigan.
Hemphill’s project, Water is a Human Right!, will work toward achieving water affordability for Detroiters and other citizens across the U.S.
“I am honored to have been given the opportunity to help create a plan for water accessibility,” said Hemphill. “Every human being deserves access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water.”
Born in Flint and raised in Detroit, Hemphill has been personally affected by water issues, which compelled her to join the fight for water affordability.
“Black and poor citizens are routinely, disproportionately negatively affected by human right abuses,” said Hemphill.
Building on the foundation that water warriors before her have laid, during her fellowship, Hemphill will provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy in Detroit, Michigan, and throughout the Great Lakes region to ensure low-income residents have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. In her fellowship plans she noted that the current legal framework provides little protection for Detroiters’ water rights.
During her fellowship, Hemphill will work as an advocate for residents – helping to appeal incorrect water bills, enroll in existing low-income payment programs, and eliminate the practice of shutting off water for non-payment.
According to Hemphill, Detroit residents who cannot afford their water bills face displacement of their children and homelessness. Additionally, having no water or plumbing infrastructure has been linked to a rise in infectious diseases worldwide - even in the U.S. In 2016, Michigan experienced a Hepatitis B outbreak; a study found that water inaccessibility contributed to the spread of the illness.
“Detroit needs a permanent equity-based water affordability plan to address structural inequality and increase its residents' overall quality of life,” she said.
Hemphill’s fellowship is sponsored by the American Tire Distributors.