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Steve Molo MOLOLAMKEN (NEW YORK)

SHERRILYN IFILL

BY JEFF SCHULT

IF ANY ORGANIZATION CAN BE SAID TO

people’s expectations of what is possible.

have shaped and framed the modern discussion of civil rights in America, it is the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The best civil rights law firm in American history,” as President Obama called it, has never been content to rest on its laurels, and Sherrilyn Ifill, named president of the LDF in 2012, has determinedly pushed the mission and dream of equal rights forward on every front. In a year that has been marked by the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Ifill, NYU Law ’87, has made the most of opportunities to remind the country both of how far it has come and how far it has to go when it comes to providing for equality under the law, political and economic fairness and justice, and human rights. LAWDRAGON: You’re the seventh President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a firm that has played a pivotal role in civil and human rights law and litigation in the United States for 75 years. Do you ever sit at your desk and wonder, “What would Thurgood Marshall have done?” And what do you think he’d have to say about the NAACP LDF in 2014? SHERRILYN IFILL: No pressure, right? Actually I do channel former Director-Counsels quite a bit. I find that each one in their own way was creative, bold and original. I push myself to be more courageous largely because of the example that each of them set. I think that Marshall would love the work we are doing and our powerful voice. I speak with Mrs. Marshall a fair amount (she sits on our board), and she keeps up with our work. I think we’d be in good shape if Justice Marshall were asked about us today. LD: You’ve worked in civil rights, one way or the other, for much of your professional career. How do you measure progress? Is it disheartening to still be litigating over the Voting Rights Act? SI: It’s disappointing to be sure. We all hoped that America would move faster towards racial equality. But anyone doing this work knows that progress is full of stops and starts. We measure progress not only by the creation of access and opportunity, but also by material changes in the lives of real people. I also think it’s important to see progress as changing

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LD: You’ve said your mentor was Derrick Bell, who was the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at Harvard Law and taught at NYU Law. How did that relationship develop and what did you learn from him? SI: Derrick Bell was one of my mentors (I have been blessed with many mentors) and he principally encouraged me when I was writing my book. In fact it was Prof. Bell who insisted that I apply to MacDowell, the writing colony, to break through writing some critical chapters. I applied and was accepted and wrote for 8 hours a day, every day for a month. Best of all, he never allowed me to develop a sense of satisfaction – even about civil rights victories. And he saw the subtle and devastating ways in which victories were often infected early on with the seeds of future defeats. Brilliant, insightful and compassionate man. Plus he was just fun. LD: How much does your role as president have to do with fundraising? Does the NAACP LDF have enough resources to fulfill its broad mission? SI: Fundraising is a key part of my job and no, we do not have enough to fulfill our mission. LDF has become an institution and people just expect us to do what we do. But we need resources to support this work. Our attorneys work so hard, and carry such a heavy load and yet to pay just for their travel, for depositions, for expert witnesses is a struggle. Every lawyer in this country should be a supporter of LDF. That’s how significant our role has been in shaping the rule of law and transforming the profession. LD: Among your writings is a critically acclaimed book on the history of lynching in the U.S. Are there have shaped and framed the modern discussion of civil rights in America, it is the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The best civil rights law firm in American history,” as President Obama called it, has never been content to rest on its laurels, and Sherrilyn Ifill, named president of the LDF in 2012, has determinedly pushed the mission and dream of equal rights forward on every front. have shaped and framed the modern discussion of civil rights in America, it is the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The best civil rights law firm in American history,” as President Obama called it, has never been content to rest on its laurels, and

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2015 lawdragon magazine  

The 10th Anniversary issue of Lawdragon Magazine features our first-ever Hall of Fame guide, a new "Legends" section and our annual Lawdrago...

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