By Sheila Pursglove
Brian Gilmore, clinical associate professor and director of the Housing Law Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law, might have been a journalist — he applied to a couple of journalism schools — and combines his love of writing with a passion for law.
“I wanted to write,” he says. “I’m a poet and writer, but I also wanted to help people — service. I toyed with the idea of getting a master’s degree in English and teaching, but I burned for a chance to help someone, to challenge the status quo for the poor. I knew I could always write, but I also wanted to do public interest
work, poor people, and I wanted to be their advocate in some way.
“The only way of doing that was to become a lawyer, or at least, get a law degree. It would also provide me with a professional career, a title — that was important
because it added to what I was doing.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Frostburg State University in Maryland, and worked as a writing instructor in the adjunct faculty of Catholic
University in Washington, D.C. A member of the D.C. Writers Corps, he also taught reading and writing in a GED program at Lorton Prison.
“I loved it,” he says. “It was amazing, for me personally. A lot of challenges and a lot of wasted lives because we could see these men, most of them African-American men, did not belong in prison. They got hooked on drugs during the heyday of the ‘Drug War’ and got tossed in jail. Many were dyslexic or had learning disabilities but they fell through the cracks. They were graduating from high school in their 20s.
“Some of the greatest moments were when we would see a young man read for the first time in his life, in jail. It would bring tears to their eyes because they had gone up to the 10th or 11th grade and no one ever tried to really help them. They just kept passing them through the system.”
Gilmore earned his law degree from the David A. Clarke School of Law in D.C., where he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, and was a contributing writer for the student newspaper, “The Side Bar.”
He “stumbled” onto the law niche of housing and Fair Housing, cutting his legal teeth on housing cases in 1993 with the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in D.C.
“I knew when I went to law school, I was going to do public interest work. I didn’t go for the money. I wanted to put ideas into action. I wasn’t making much money but the work is thrilling, very satisfying to stand up for the little guy, the person everyone wants to toss aside like they are nothing.”
In 2000, with a lot more experience under his belt, Gilmore represented a mentally disabled and alcoholic black woman in a housing discrimination case.
“It became one of the most important housing discrimination cases in the history of the city. I enjoyed it, and from then on, I’ve been drawn to Fair Housing, as well as all kinds of other cases involving the poor,” he says.
“Fair Housing is like the last frontier in civil rights; unlike voting rights, and public accommodations, it’s a riddle, and a failure for us right now as a country.”
Gilmore, who teaches Housing Law Clinics I and II, came to MSU last year from Howard University School of Law in D.C., where for five years he was a clinical professor and supervising attorney with the Clinical Law Center. He developed and initiated the center’s Fair Housing Teaching Program, organized programs to educate constituents and community advocates, taught Introduction to Lawyering Process for Education Administrators, and served as a guest lecturer in Professional Responsibility and Pre-Trial Litigation courses. He also designed and taught Housing Law and the Public Interest.
Gilmore, who also has worked for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and Robert Ades and Associates, has approximately 40 published works to his credit. His works have appeared in the Washington Post, Book Forum, ABA Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, the Nation, the Baltimore Sun, and the Utne Reader, and he was senior scriptwriter and co-editor of a Fair Housing mock training video and teaching manual. He has delivered more than 25 panels, workshops, lectures, and presentations.
The D.C. native has quickly acclimated to life as a Sparty.
“I enjoy the students, and the daily interaction we have on the law and even more so, on life. This is a great law school, and it will be greater, but mostly that will be because of the students,” he says.
The Housing Law Clinic deals with landlord-tenant, housing discrimination, public housing, and foreclosure work, and works on appeals cases involving housing with other organizations. As Gilmore tells his students, “Housing is everything.”
“It’s where you sleep and eat but also what you eat and breathe, the water you drink, places you shop, the schools your children attend,” he says. “Various studies show bad housing will result in bad living and bad life outcomes. It’s important to every class of persons in the United States, rich, poor, middle class, working class, and all races and ethnicities.
“If the country could get beyond its housing issues, things would get a lot better. Housing is the road to prosperity for so many people, but that’s changing; it’s now the road to ruin because of greed and the failure of the government to enforce its laws.”
A case in point is this latest economic crisis and housing crash — catastrophic for some people and changing the lives of so many because of the way the market crashed and the circumstances and actions leading to the crisis.
“Greed was some of it but some of it was the lack of literacy on these financial issues,” he says. “It’s a story still being told and when it comes out, people will be angrier than they are now.”
Married, with three daughters, Gilmore describes his life as “crazy.”
“I love music and film and art. Music and film are kind of very central to my world as I write a lot about music and like to use film in education,” he says.
He moderated a film “The Art of the Steal” at the MSU Library, and brought New York City filmmaker Bill Kavanaugh and his film “Brick by Brick” to the Housing Law Clinic. Gilmore hopes to write a book or article about the historical side of housing in Michigan, and continue his poetry and writing.
“I have two books of poetry out, and I write all the time: fiction, commentary, non-fiction, reviews, law review articles. I’ve done some journalism, here and there, it’s what I do — write, communicate.
“I’m a poet and writer who teaches law, not a lawyer who is a poet-writer. The poetry and the kind of law I practice and teach is the same now, the public interest kind, it has become fused and my clients and work informs my poetry and writings and vice versa. I feel very comfortable in the highly technical world of legal education but also in the world of poets and writers at literary events which I feel is highly technical and important too in its own way.
“Mostly, my career is one thing, not two separate things. Most of my colleagues are one or the other, a law teacher, or lawyer, or a poet/writer. I am both: literature and the law drive me. I’m okay with that.”