Mr. Abdi,* an elderly man who does not speak English well, placed an order at an electronics store and paid in advance. Ten days later, he called the store to ask about his purchase. The store manager told Abdi the order had been picked up by “someone who looks like you.” He would not refund the money or admit any mistake.
Abdi took his problem to Staff Attorney Ahmed Madey at the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood Legal Clinic. It is Legal Aid’s second East African legal clinic sponsored by the Pat and Tom Grossman Family Fund of the Minnesota Community Foundation.
Trusted Law Clinics for the East African Community
“Back in 2016, I was personally so upset by the discrimination directed at the East African community, I went to speak with Legal Aid’s executive director,” says local businessman Tom Grossman. “Together, we came up with this idea of embedding a lawyer in the community. We wanted to provide accessible legal services from a trusted source.”
The Grossman clinics provide culturally competent legal advice and representation to a community that often isn’t sure whom they can trust. In Abdi’s case, Madey, who is fluent in Somali and Swahili, negotiated on his behalf. He spoke first with the store manager and then with the legal department. Finally, he called the location manager.
“Now I am not negotiating,” he said in his final message. “Give this gentleman back his money or we are going to court. Were you saying that all Somali people look the same? Or that because he doesn’t speak English, he can’t have his money back? That is not the way to treat a customer. You have one day to make this right.”
Abdi called later that day to say that he had received a full refund. His case was resolved before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, like the rest of Legal Aid’s staff, Madey works with clients remotely, and he is seeing an onslaught of new cases.
Culturally Competent Legal Aid
“Things are especially hard during these times, and the clinic gives people a place to turn,” Madey says. “It’s a learning process for me and more work every day, but I love it. It’s a big help for immigrants to talk with a lawyer who speaks their language and understands the cultural context.”
Recently, Madey worked with a woman who had no income. After many years of labor to sponsor her husband from Africa, she found herself alone after a divorce. She had serious illness and went through five knee surgeries. A relative had been helping her financially, but he lost his job. Her bills were piling up and she had run out of options. She didn’t speak English and had no idea what help was available or how to get it.
Madey helped her apply for assistance from various government and non-profit sources. She is now receiving food stamps and general assistance of over $200/month. With a housing voucher, her rent was $143/month. She can now pay that and buy food.
“We were her last hope, and now she probably will not be evicted,” says Madey. “Just as important, she now believes someone cares about her. The Grossman Foundation made
The Grossman Family: Visionary Philanthropists
Grossman is the grandson of immigrants and a passionate believer in justice and community responsibility. With the clinics, he hoped to give a hand up to people who could not otherwise afford legal representation.
“Often when we give to charity, we hope to do some good and make the world a better place,” he says. “But with these clinics, I can see the effects on individual people who I believe would not be served otherwise. That is extremely satisfying, both on a case-to-case and in the big picture.”
Madey’s goal is to make a difference with each person he serves, no matter how small. Each day, he reviews documents, explains procedures and systems, helps clients apply for benefits, and stands with them in court. Sometimes, he just listens.
“I take it one case at a time,” he says. “I have the rich opportunity to draw on the years of experience of my colleagues and take all of that to the community — thanks to the generosity of the Grossmans. I sleep better at night knowing people like them are still out there.”
*Name changed to protect identity of client