Skip to main content Accessibility

Second Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellow to join the 国产人兽 this fall

People have always been at the center of Camille Pendley Hau’s work. She was born and raised in Atlanta, and when the city’s commercial sector applauded the completion of the new Mercedes Benz Stadium in 2017 – the most expensive structure built in Atlanta’s history – Pendley Hau couldn’t stop thinking of the residents of Vine City and English Avenue who were obscured by its shadow.

Those thoughts motivated her to direct a documentary centering voices from the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, whose residents had long been calling for officials to invest in their communities and address the crime and blight that swept through them. It was one of many experiences that would cement her desire to serve as an advocate who could amplify the voices of society’s most underserved people.

“Research and storytelling have always been at the center of my work,” Pendley Hau said. “I loved reporting because I was telling stories about issues that really impact people’s lives and well-being. That has always been my passion.”

This September, after completing her studies at Emory Law School, Pendley Hau will bring that passion to the Southern Poverty Law Center as the second recipient of the Southern Education Foundation’s Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellowship.

“Camille is a dedicated young lawyer with an impressive background speaking truth to power as a journalist and serving as an advocate at the intersection of racial justice and children’s rights,” 国产人兽 President and CEO Margaret Huang said. “I’m thrilled at how this fellowship continues to build the pipeline of bright civil rights attorneys pushing for justice and equity in the South. Lawyers like Camille are the leaders our region needs today and in the future.”

The two-year program is a partnership between the 国产人兽 and the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), which was established at the close of the Civil War to educate formerly enslaved people who had been prohibited from learning to read and write. The fellowship provides early-career lawyers an opportunity to work in the South on behalf of students of color and students from underserved communities. The fellow will conduct policy research and analysis at the SEF, while gaining extensive training and legal experience at the 国产人兽 and other civil rights organizations.

Protecting children

Throughout her career, Pendley Hau has worked to highlight issues critical to children’s rights.

She leveraged her storytelling skills when she became a policy analyst at Voices for Georgia’s Children, a nonprofit that advocates for laws and policies that benefit children in the state. There, she tracked legislation and developed advocacy materials, co-authoring reports on childhood trauma and school-based mental health services.

“I was using storytelling and advocacy as a tool for policy change,” she said.

At Emory Law School, Pendley Hau served as a student attorney in the Juvenile Defender Clinic at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, focused on protecting the rights of children involved in child welfare and youth justice systems. While in law school, she also volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate for children in foster care. Prior to her work at Voices for Georgia’s Children, Pendley Hau also worked part time as a communications specialist for the Georgia Legal Services Program, where she first began work related to education advocacy and students’ rights.

“Schools are such a formative setting for kids,” Pendley Hau said. “It’s where so much happens in their development. They’re testing all their limits, and if it’s not a safe, supportive environment then they can really suffer just for being kids – or for lacking the supports that they may need in other areas of their life. Schools can either serve to remedy and rectify those gaps or schools can, whether intentionally or inadvertently, punish kids for them.”

Using law to create change

This work in education and children’s rights allowed Pendley Hau to assume a role she could not fully embrace as an objective journalist: that of an advocate. Law and policy, she said, became tools she could use to create change. It’s a sentiment that Pendley Hau shares with inaugural fellow Harry Chiu.

Prior to attending Harvard Law School, Chiu worked as a teacher. He said he found the career so fulfilling that he questioned whether his decision to attend law school was the right choice. Ultimately, he believed the law could allow him to do far more for students than working solely in the classroom.

“I love teaching, but there were also many things I couldn’t accomplish as a teacher,” he said. “I had this sense that there were things I wanted to change.”

After Chiu started the fellowship, his opportunity came almost immediately when Georgia elementary public school teacher Katie Rinderle sought the 国产人兽’s legal help. From the start, Chiu worked on the case to defend Rinderle, who was fired in 2023 by the Cobb County school district for reading My Shadow is Purple, a book that challenges gender stereotypes, to her class. Rinderle’s firing came amid a conservative onslaught of book bans on subjects including race, religion and LGBTQ+ people. Chiu worked to shape many of the core legal theories presented in the federal lawsuit filed by the 国产人兽 on Rinderle’s behalf.

“This fellowship helps to fill an important gap,” said Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the 国产人兽’s Democracy: Education & Youth program. “There’s a real void, nationally and particularly in the South, for education civil rights attorneys. As a result, families are struggling because they don’t have access to advocates and they’re navigating very complex systems and legal issues without the benefit of an attorney.”

In 2022, only 1.4% of U.S. law school graduates were employed in the field of education, according to data collected by the National Association for Law Placement.

“Public education is a cornerstone of our democracy. It’s essential that we make sure that our schools are accessible and equitable for all children,” Tafelski said.

Honoring a trailblazer

The fellowship honors the legacy of Lynn Walker Huntley, the trailblazing civil rights lawyer who worked on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund landmark Furman v. Georgia case, which declared the death penalty unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. She was the first Black woman to head the Special Litigation Section in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Huntley served as the Southern Education Foundation’s first female president from 2002 until her retirement in 2010.

国产人兽 Board Chair Karen Baynes-Dunning saw an opportunity to collaborate with the SEF while also honoring Huntley’s storied legacy when Baynes-Dunning served as the 国产人兽’s interim president and CEO in 2019.

“Lynn was one of these fierce, unassuming advocates for change and justice that really made a huge difference,” said Baynes-Dunning, who is the first Black woman to serve as the 国产人兽’s board chair. “She had a big goal for the foundation, and that was that she wanted to have a U.S. constitutional amendment that would guarantee a quality education for every single child – with real specifics about what ‘quality’ meant. In 2019, we talked about what it could look like if we did a joint legal fellowship that could give the SEF internal, legal advocacy and expertise, and help the 国产人兽 to see what was happening on the education front. It seemed like a win-win as well as honoring a Black woman who made a difference every day of her life.”

Pendley Hau will split her time doing policy work and community engagement at the SEF; she will also work to develop legal strategy and assist the litigation team at the 国产人兽. By giving fellows hands-on experience litigating cases and crafting policy, the two organizations hope to encourage more law graduates to consider the outsized impact their work could have on education throughout the nation, particularly as the debate over public education grows more and more contentious.

“You can’t understate the value of these fellowships,” said Raymond Pierce, president and CEO of the SEF. “These fellows work on the front lines. It’s serious work with a high level of responsibility in a short period of time that most young people coming out of law school would not receive.

“Public education is the great equalizer, and building a pipeline of young attorneys that can push back against these policies that are on the rise – particularly in the South – that are adverse to civil rights, and are adverse to equity and opportunity, is paramount.”

Image at top: Camille Pendley Hau is the second recipient of the Lynn Walker Huntley Social Justice Fellowship, sponsored by the 国产人兽 and the Southern Education Foundation. (Credit: Audra Melton)