Ford Foundation awards fellowship to former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and prolific scholar to continue her work on strengthening American democracy

New York, NY – Today, the Ford Foundation announced that Sherrilyn Ifill, nationally recognized civil rights lawyer and law professor, will be joining the organization as a Senior Fellow. Senior Fellows are social justice leaders who have served with distinction in a leadership role at NGOs and public interest organizations in the U.S and internationally.

The Ford Foundation has hosted a select number of senior fellows over the past 20 years. Given her deep knowledge and expertise in the fields of civil rights law and academia, Ifill will focus her one-year fellowship on completing a writing project that reimagines how to build a strengthened American democracy with a particular emphasis on the need to confront and untangle what Ifill calls “America’s ongoing embrace of white supremacy.” Ifill also intends to engage in work that examines the state of the American legal profession and its responsibilities at this challenging moment in our democracy.

“Sherrilyn Ifill is one of the most brilliant and passionate civil rights leaders of our time. Her courageous moral leadership for racial justice has inspired me and millions of Americans from all walks of life,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. “We are honored that Sherrilyn is joining the Ford Foundation as a Senior Fellow to continue her work to advance justice and dignity for all.”

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve as a Fellow at the Ford Foundation, where the leadership and staff share such a commitment to justice and equality around the world,” said Ifill. “The work of the Foundation during this difficult time in our country, led by its visionary leader Darren Walker, has been a beacon and an encouragement to so many of us doing the work of civil rights. I am energized and thrilled that I will be able to share and strengthen my work informed by the brilliant minds at Ford.”

Ifill is a civil rights lawyer and scholar who recently stepped down after 10 years in leadership as the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation’s premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice and equity. She was the second woman ever to lead the organization. Ifill currently serves as Director-Counsel Emerita for the LDF.

Ifill began her career as a Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, before joining the staff of the LDF as an Assistant Counsel in 1988, where she litigated voting rights cases for five years. In 1993 Ifill left LDF to join the faculty at University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. For more than two decades, she 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 formerly incarcerated persons.

Ifill is also a prolific scholar who has published academic articles in leading law journals, and op-eds and commentaries in leading newspapers. Her 2008 book “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century,” was highly acclaimed, and is credited with laying the foundation for contemporary conversations about lynching and reconciliation. A 10th anniversary edition of the book was recently released with a Foreword by Bryan Stevenson, the acclaimed lawyer and founder of the national lynching memorial in Montgomery, AL.

Ifill holds a J.D. from New York University School of Law and a Bachelor’s degree from Vassar College. She is the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates and was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world in 2021. Ifill currently serves on the board of the Mellon Foundation, and on the Board of Trustees of New York University School of Law.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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