The awards from the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity will formally be presented to the honorees during the ABA Virtual Midyear Meeting on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The winners of the 2021 Spirit of Excellence Awards are, per the ABA:
- Lori E. Lightfoot: Chicago’s first Black, female mayor
- Sherrilyn Ifill: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president and director-counsel
- Barbara L. Creel: University of New Mexico School of Law professor
- Román D. Hernández: Managing partner of the Oregon office for Troutman Pepper
- John C. Yang: Asian Americans Advancing Justice president and executive director
“At this critical moment, the commission is redoubling its efforts to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession and in our justice system,” said section chair Michelle Behnke. “As we work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, we also think it is important to pause for a moment to celebrate and herald the leaders who have been championing diversity, equity and inclusion in their respective spheres.”
All of the honorees are said to have personified excellence at every level of government and have demonstrated commitment to diversity in the field of law.
Ahead of her current position at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Ifill was an assistant counsel there from 1988 to 1993. She then took a position at the University of Maryland School of Law where she worked on civil rights cases with her students for two decades, according to the ABA. In 2013, she returned to the fund and has since “emerged as one of the nation’s leading voices in the struggle for racial justice and equality.” Some of the areas she has focused her work on include housing discrimination, voter suppression, school discipline and affirmative action.
According to information from the defense and education fund, Ifill is only the second woman to head the group. “Over twenty years, Ifill taught civil procedure and constitutional law to thousands of law students, and pioneered a series of law clinics, including one of the earliest law clinics in the country focused on challenging legal barriers to the reentry of ex-offenders,” reads information from the fund. “Ifill is also a prolific scholar who has published academic articles in leading law journals, and op-eds and commentaries in leading newspapers.”
"The One Book, One Chicago guest blog series continues, and today we have a very special guest blogger - @chicagosmayor Lori E. Lightfoot! Read her reflection on this season's theme, Beyond Borders - https://buff.ly/3klQfcO #OBOC"
Lightfoot, the first female African American mayor of Chicago, assumed office in 2019 and has undertaken an “ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities,” according to the ABA. “Her early accomplishments include landmark ethics and good governance reforms and worker protection legislation, as well as key investments in education, public safety, affordable housing and financial stability."
Creel was lauded for her work fighting for Native American rights, Hernández was recognized for his community service record and is credited as one of the founding members of the Oregon Hispanic Bar Association, while Yang was awarded for his efforts fighting for human and civil rights for Asian Americans, among other accolades.