Once a victim of discrimination, she now fights for others » News

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Once a victim of discrimination, she now fights for others » News
Once a victim of discrimination, she now fights for others » News » News From Terre Haute, Indiana
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April 11, 2012
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Once a victim of
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Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE — “I determined a long time
ago to be a victor, and not a victim!”
And to look at her today, no one would
think that the spunky Merilyn Brown who
made that statement to an audience of
Vigo County high school students on
Tuesday would have ever let anyone
victimize her.
But she experienced a gut-wrenching
episode of housing discrimination that
almost caused her to give up on her
dream of finishing law school.
She survived a tough upbringing, struggled
through school and then college, and
overcame stereotypes expecting failure
rather than success. Brown shared her
story during the 11th annual Terre Haute
Human Rights Day hosted at Indiana State
University by a variety of local
organizations.
As she walked among the students, she
pointed out the differences — hair,
eyeglasses, clothes, affiliations — that lead
people to judge others based on
appearance. But there are other
differences used by some people to
discriminate — race, color, religion,
gender, national origin, family status,
disability, ancestry, age, sexual
orientation, military service veteran status
— and which violate fair housing laws.
“I’ll never forget becoming a victim of
housing discrimination,” Brown said.
She was a student attending John Marshall
Law School in Chicago. She saw an
advertisement for housing on the Gold
Coast in Chicago, made an appointment
and went to talk to someone about renting
an apartment. But when she got to the
appointment, no one would wait on her, or
speak to her, so after almost coming to
Examples of unlawful housing
discrimination
• Refusing to rent to a family with children
• Requiring individuals with disabilities to pay
higher security deposits
• Stating that a unit is not available when it is
just because of someone’s protected class under
fair housing laws
• Requiring credit checks only on American
Indian applicants
• Building a large, new apartment building with
no accessible units
• Restricting families with children to certain
buildings or floors
• Requiring a pet deposit for an assistive or
service animal
• Suggesting a tenant can pay for back rent
with sexual favors
• Requiring criminal record checks for African
Americans only
• Publishing an advertisement which indicates a
limitation or preference based on status within a
protected class
Fair housing resources
• Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana:
www.fhcci.org or (855) 270-7280.
• Indiana Civil Rights Commission:
www.in.gov/icrc
• U.S. Department of Housing and Huban
Development/Fair Housing:
www.hud.gov/fairhousing
• U.S. Department of Justice/Civil Right:
www.usdoj.gov/crt
• Fair Housing Advocate: www.fairhousing.com
http://tribstar.com/news/x611949428/Once-a-victim-of-discrimination-she-now-fights-for-others[4/11/2012 3:12:51 PM]
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tears, she decided to leave.
“By the time I hit the door, I knew I had
been discriminated against,” Brown said.
“And I didn’t understand why. I figured I
must have done something wrong.”
Tribune-Star/Joseph C.
Garza She experienced it,
too: Merilyn D. Brown,
Attorney Advisor for the
U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban
Development, describes
the housing discrimination
she experienced as she
presents her keynote
address for Human Rights
Day 2012 in the Hulman
Memorial Student Union
on the Indiana State
campus Tuesday.
After checking with the fair housing center
in Chicago, and after another minority
person received the same treatment from
the rental property agency, she filed a
lawsuit against the agency.
Even though she had the support of law
school professors who took her case,
Brown said she lost trust in everyone. She
pushed away her Caucasian friends, and
she took out her anger on the people who
were important to her.
Tribune-Star/Joseph C.
Garza Keeping housing
fair: Merilyn D. Brown
describes how she as
Attorney Advisor for the
U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban
Development enforces fair
housing practices Tuesday
during Human Rights Day
2012 at the Hulman
Memorial Student Union
on the Indiana State
campus.
Eventually, the case was settled. But those
feelings of humiliation and being broken
stayed with her. So much so, that after
passing the bar exam on her first attempt,
she became an attorney working for fair
housing enforcement.
“I am a product of being a statistic,”
Brown said laughing. “Ask me if I’m
having fun. Ask me if I enjoy suing people
who discriminate. You hide it? My job is to
find it. The more you hide it, the more fun
I have!”
Brown has worked in fair housing
enforcement since 1989. She is now
attorney adviser for the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development at the
Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. She is
the former director of the Fair Housing
Enforcement Division of the Office of
Investigations in Washington, D.C. Before
joining HUD, she served as administrative
director of the John Marshall Law School’s
National Fair Housing Educational Center.
Brown relayed multiple examples of
housing discrimination — from a woman
who had survived domestic violence, to
another woman preyed upon by a
perverted landlord to a family with “too
many” children.
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Brown encouraged the high school
students attending the activities to become
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changers and challengers of wrong-doing.
With the youth on their feet, they recited
the pledge: “I am empowered to make a difference. I am willing to start and change
somebody’s life, today.”
After her presentation, Jeff Lorick, executive director of the Terre Haute Human Relations
Commission, said one of the biggest complaints that his office receives in terms of fair housing
is discrimination based on disability, age and race.
The city has a lot of rental property, he said, but it needs to have more housing for low- and
moderate-income people.
For more information about fair housing, go online to the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana
at www.fhcci.org.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or [email protected]
http://tribstar.com/news/x611949428/Once-a-victim-of-discrimination-she-now-fights-for-others[4/11/2012 3:12:51 PM]
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Once a victim of
discrimination,
she now fights for
others
“I determined a long time ago to be a victor,
and not a victim!”
And to look at her today, no one would think
that the spunky Merilyn Brown who made that
statement to an audience of Vigo County high
school students on Tuesday would have ever
let anyone victimize her.
But she experienced a gut-wrenching episode
of housing discrimination that almost caused
her to give up on her dream of finishing law
school.
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has a story about:
Once a victim of
discrimination, she now
fights for others
“I determined a long time
ago to be a victor, and not
a victim!” And to look at her
today, no one would think
that the spunky Merilyn
Brown who made that
statement to an audience
of Vigo County high school
students on Tuesday would
have ever let anyone
victimize her. But she
experienced a gutwrenching episode of
housing discrimination that
l
t
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