Southern Poverty Law Center receives a million-dollar grant from health foundation

In the Deep South, some young people are facing a school-to-prison pipeline. When not supported academically, they are often forced out of school because of behavioral issues.

In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, one in three public school students is Black. More than half are low-income, and one-third live below the poverty line.

Bacardi Jackson, children’s rights interim deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained these issues are exacerbated by the funneling of money away from public schools, leading to continuing segregation in education. The SPLC is working to support those children disproportionately damaged by the system.

A $1 million grant from the Gilead Foundation's Creating Possible Fund will help the SPLC in this effort. The foundation is the nonprofit arm of biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. The foundation states that its mission is to promote health prosperity for all. The grant supports several arms of the SPLC. On the education side, it will support litigation in the sphere of education.

One specific suit is a class-action lawsuit taking place in Louisiana, where the SPLC is representing over 47,000 Medicaid eligible children with mental illness.

"So, we are talking about really tragic circumstances that occur when the states failed to meet their obligations to provide what children are entitled to under the law,” said Jackson. “So, being able to have support for the litigation that is ongoing, to hold the state accountable is really important.

The grant will help the SPLC research increased policing in schools in response to school shootings, specifically looking at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission in Parkland, Fla. They are also looking into a research project focused on Miami-Dade County in Florida, where a disproportionate number of young girls felt sexually harassed by school resource officers.

“If we don't fix the climates in our schools, if we don't deal with the sources of all of the indicators that show us how Black and brown people and children with disabilities are being harmed, then all of us are suffering,” Jackson said. “We are not in a healthy climate.”

Another area of the Southern Poverty Law Center that the grant is supporting is the criminal justice reform arm. Leslie Faith Jones, a senior staff attorney in the SPLC’s criminal justice reform group.

Jones said they are part of a collective to reduce the number of incarcerated Black and brown youth in Hinds County, Miss.

“We are not coming to tell Hinds County what to do,” said Jones. “We are coming in to support the needs that they have identified for themselves.”

"We can continue to invest in our young people, and that return on our investment will be safer communities for all of us,” said Jones.

Jemma Stephenson is the children and education reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. She can be reached at or 334-261-1569.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: SPLC receives $1 million grant from nonprofit health foundation