057: Meena Jagannath (Community Justice Project)

Meena Jagannath on Innovation City

“I believe that legal victories alone are not going to get us to where we need to be in terms of social change.” — Meena Jagannath

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in cooperation with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community. Venture Cafe is the largest combined gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators anywhere in the world. Events are held every Thursday in St. Louis, Miami, and other leading innovation cities around the globe.

Today’s guest is Meena Jagannath, Co-Founder and Co-Director at Community Justice Project. Meena has been a human rights advocate for nearly 20 years, working in places like India, Guatemala, and Haiti in addition to her work in communities around the U.S. A movement lawyer with an extensive background in activism, Meena also has a Master’s in International Affairs. She sits down with the Innovation City team to talk about her path to co-founding Community Justice Project, how it fits into the public-sector legal services ecosystem in Miami, and how their team supports a growing community of activists and organizers working on behalf of people who are often ignored by the city and other institutions of power.

They discuss:

  • Co-Founding Community Justice Project (CJP) with Alana Greer and Charles Elsesser
  • Combining grassroots organizing and policy advocacy with direct legal representation
  • Legal victories alone will not achieve social change; you have to work alongside the people directly affected by the issues
  • Working in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
  • Figuring out how Community Justice Project needed to practice community law, around the time of the Ferguson Protests
  • Developing out of Florida Legal Services, but serving a separate and distinct need
  • The power of seed grants; provided by Echoing Green and Harvard Law School
  • Designing their own practice
  • Drawing on the work of, and supporting and being a resource for, community organizers, social entrepreneurs, activist organizations
  • Serving as a bridge between the voiceless and the new energy and resources coming to Miami
  • Coordinating delegations to the United Nations, including a visit by the parents of Michael Brown, Jr. who was killed in Ferguson
  • An important part of what CJP does is demystify the law, so that those affected by it can fully process what is happening from a legal standpoint
  • Translating policy into everyday language, which allows constituents to provide more feedback and be a more vital part of the decision-making process
  • The importance of interacting with, and listening to, the people who perform the often unseen labor of cities
  • Moving beyond a zero-sum worldview
  • Giving people the power to self-actualize
  • Showing the benefits of having a diverse, inclusive, prosperous city
  • Wages vs. housing
  • Fighting America’s scarcity mentality; why is such a rich country failing to apply the full force of innovation to building better communities?
  • How Venture Cafe creates space for people to connect
  • CJP’s unique vantage point on community development
  • Hosting salons inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and the salons of Paris
  • Increasing community engagement to help create new ideas
  • Important Community Issues:
    • Migration
    • Sea Level Rise
    • The Changing Taxi Industry
    • Equity
    • Inclusion
    • Affordable Housing
  • “It start with you” — changing your personal perspective is where it starts
  • The need for compassion and the importance of understanding others’ perspectives
  • Defensive Mindset vs. Affirmative Mindset