Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

Introduction and Keynote

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

Introduction and Keynote

Article excerpt

Elise Lopez: My name is Elise Lopez, and I am the president of Empowering Women of Color for the 2016-2017 year. It's so wonderful to see you all here. This is our third annual Empowering Women of Color Conference. Each year, we get better attendance and more engagement. We are joined by our cosponsors: the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, the African-American Policy Forum, and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies.

Our theme this year is Double-Consciousness. It's really a theme that strikes at the core of what our group stands for.

It's about being an advocate both for ourselves in the legal and professional world, but also being a mentor to other women of color. It's also about striking that balance between fitting into this generations-old institution of legal practice, but also pushing boundaries and keeping the dialogue going about issues that are relevant to women of color.

We've brought together a wonderful panel of practitioners, scholars, and members of the judiciary. I'm very excited to hear what they have to share with us today about their experiences and the wisdom that they have gained along the way. Opening our conversation is our keynote speaker, the Honorable Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals.

She is a graduate of Barnard College and also an alumna of our very own Columbia Law School. Upon graduation, she began her legal career as a staff attorney at East Brooklyn Legal Services. Then, she began her work in the judiciary in 1992 in the Civil Court of the City of New York. In 1993, she was elected to the Supreme Court of New York County.

Then, she was appointed an associate justice of the Appellate Division, First Department in March of 2009 by Governor Patterson. In April of 2013, she was nominated by Governor Cuomo to the New York Court of Appeals. She's the first African American woman to serve on the Court of Appeals. We're so very lucky to have her. She has had an illustrious career, and we're excited to hear what she has to say. Please join me in welcoming her.

Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam: Good morning. Thank you, Elise, for that generous introduction and the warm welcome. This is like a home to me. I've been here so many times since I graduated. As I walked in the door this morning, one of the students here reminded me of a student I knew at Barnard who became the dean of students at Columbia Law School. Now, she's the dean of students at Harvard Law School. I've been here quite a bit over the years. I'm very happy to be here this morning. This theme, Double-Consciousness: Women of Color as Advocates for Ourselves and Others is one that, of course, touches me very personally.

You've heard a little bit about me, but I thought I would share some of my experiences and my thoughts about the profession as I've embarked on my legal career and journey, what I call lifting as I climb and giving back. Mine has been a remarkable climb, as you've heard, all the way from a poor, working-class neighborhood in southeast Washington, D.C. to the Court of Appeals in Albany.

Back in the 1950s and 60s when I was attending still-segregated public schools more than a decade after the United States Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1) decision, some might have thought my ascension to such lofty heights was impossible. Even I, sometimes, have found it hard to believe my improbable good fortune in becoming the first African American woman to serve on our state's highest court in its 169-year history.

There is that double-consciousness. Why didn't I think I would get there? I have to say my mother thought nothing was impossible. She would not have been surprised that I was there. Unfortunately, she did not live to see me get there, although she did see me get on the bench. My family was one of those who could have benefited from free or low-cost legal services. …

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