Liberty native Emanuel Powell graduated from Harvard Law School recently, receiving the juris doctorate degree on May 30 in Cambridge, Mass.
Powell was also the winner of the Gary Bellow Public Service Award and participated in the Mississippi Delta Project.
He will be working with U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves in Jackson.
The Gary Bellow Public Service Award was established in 2001 to honor Professor Bellow, his commitment to public service and his innovative approach to the analysis and practice of law. Professor Bellow was a pioneering public interest lawyer who founded and directed Harvard Law School’s clinical programs, according to Harvard Law Today.
Each year, the Gary Bellow Public Service Award recognizes a student who exemplifies how lawyers can litigate, educate, advocate and organize to promote social justice. The student body nominates and selects the winner.
This year, the finalists were celebrated at an award ceremony and reception on April 23. At the ceremony, Powell encouraged his classmates to be mindful of the ways lawyers can either help or hinder social movements. While at Harvard, Powell worked in a variety of practice areas that focused on movement lawyering.
Hailing from Liberty, a town of a little over 700 people, Powell said he has always felt called to work in spaces that fight for racial equity. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, Powell was a part of the governing board of the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund.
Concerned by the lack of diversity of the undergraduate and graduate student population, two USC undergraduates started the Student Aid Fund, financed by a student tax that helps support low-income students from communities surrounding USC.
Next to singing in the gospel choir, Powell said he considers his experience on the board “the most fun thing I’ve done at USC.”
After graduating from the Marshall School of Business at USC in 2012, Powell spent a summer in Rwanda helping rural farmers start co-ops, using his undergraduate training to help develop social enterprises. He then moved to New York and worked for two consulting organizations.
At one, he helped a philanthropic organization focus on investing in racial equity, which culminated in designing a fellowship program for individuals in South Africa and the U.S. fighting to dismantle anti-black racism. That led him to be an active voice in the organization, helping other nonprofits think about funding racial justice work.
It was through his experiences that he noticed that lawyers were always in the room. He began to see the law as a path to achieving black liberation and decided to go to law school.
At Harvard Law School, Powell was a member and a leader of the Mississippi Delta Project and Harvard Defenders. Additionally, he spent two years at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.
In the Mississippi Delta Project he worked on the child and youth team, and in Defenders he represented clients at show-cause hearings.
“The classroom setting is valuable for getting the foundational understanding (of the law) … but the way I learn best is through experiential learning,” he said.
He chose these organizations because, he says, they each orient students to be of service to the community, whether it be individual clients or movement organizers in a specific geographic area. It’s a principle of his to engage with the community in an authentic way.
“I have a belief that you should work in community and with movements.”
Powell served as the managing editor of the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal, which uses legal scholarship to support black communities, and is a member of the political action committee of the Black Law Student Association.
Reflecting on the award and his three years at Harvard Law School, Powell said, “I was surprised to be nominated. One thing I’ve learned is that there are many students at HLS involved in public interest work across many different issue areas. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to accept this award, especially given the legacy of Gary Bellow and the opportunity to share the great work of some of the community-based organizations I have had the opportunity to work with. I hope I can live up to that legacy as I begin my career as an attorney.”