Sherrilyn Ifill ’An Embarrassment of Riches’

The beauty of Sherrilyn Ifill is that she is at the top of her game. Time recognized her amongst its Women of the Year (’22) and Most Influential top 100 in 2021. Glamour magazine identified her on their ‘Women of the Year’ list in 2021and ‘superhero’. The same year she was honored with the ‘Spirit of Excellence Award’ by the American Bar Association. Just a year earlier (’20) she was named ‘Attorney of the Year’ by The American Lawyer. She has other awards including the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. Despite the long list of possible nominees Sherrilyn Ifill was on that list for consideration as Justice for the Supreme Court.

Sherrilyn Ifill was born into America’s Civil Rights movement in 1962 to emigrant AME parents from Caribbean and South American. Three years later the Voting Rights Act was passed and 8 years before that Brown v. Board of Education was struck down ‘separate by equal’ as inherently unequal in schools. Youngest of her ten (10) siblings, Sherrilyn’s high school education was in New York leading to undergraduate studies at Vassar College in Upstate New York and Law School at New York University. A big chunk of Ifill’s career was as professor, where she was tenured at University of Maryland Law School as a professor and researcher for twenty (20) years. After leaving law school she worked with the AFL-CIO before joining the Legal Defense and Educational Fund legal team working on civil rights cases.

Listening to Sherrilyn’s commentary on numerous media outlets (PBS, MSNBC) offered  her platforms as a fluent spokesperson for civil rights. Her knowledge and experience makes her ideal to speak on complex national issues about our country and its constitutional challenges. Ifill’s voice of reason and in depth analysis became very useful when recruiting her as the next president and director council of The Legal Defense and Educational Fund upon the death of its leader John Payton.

Ben Jealous, president of NAACP at the time, made a great choice in selecting Sherrilyn Ifill as leader and only second woman to lead The LDF.  It turned out to be an excellent platform for her continue the voice and vision of the Legal arm of the NAACP during national turbulent times.  Professor Ifill put her tenure at the University of Maryland on hold to pick up the mantle at the helm of LDF during the Trump administration. How do you position an important a legal civil rights organization in the fight against the watering down of long standing laws like the Voting Rights Act? In a ‘Fast Company’ Article, Sherrilyn Ifill’s leadership proved to be the needed infused energy and adjustments to ensure The LDF’s iconic legacy impact in the Civil Rights movement. Her professional development in law benefited directly from early civil rights judicial wins by Thurgood Marshall (lawsuit against the University of Maryland Law School discrimination practices) and a bridge to legal fights on the watering down by the Supreme Court basic fundamental constitutional rights of average citizens under the Trump administration. 

Sherrilyn Ifill was a child of Civil Rights, and a benefactor in her educational and professional pursuits, to arrive as helm guiding the LDF into a new era of relevance, effectiveness, with continued impact. Ifill’s vision focused on engaging her deputy-council by turning the strengthened LDF organization over as a sustainable step for continuity before 2024 elections.  She expanded LDF’s staffs ability to master communication as a  designated arm’. Ifill installed a branch of organizers, set to send them into ‘hotspots’ as investigators collecting information at the ground level. She also understood that The LDF had to be proactive instead of reactive by being timely in taking on battles that were being introduced constantly through committee formulations designed to narrow and limit rights of American citizens. Some of these ‘Trump’ presidential inspired committees needed disbandment almost immediately and The LDF was prepared to take on these legal challenges as they came up. To maintain effectiveness, Ifill grew the budget from $12 million to $60 million. She enhanced a scholarship fund named Marshall-Motley (Thurgood Marshall (Justice) and Constance Baker Motley), legendary champions of hard fought civil rights cases in front of the Supreme Court. Sherrilyn’s departure this March 2022 left it in capable hands under the leadership of the third woman in history to run it and first woman to woman transfer of power, Janai Nelson. Forbes article quotes Nelson as saying, “We are a much larger organization, a much more visible organization and a much more powerful one than we were when Sherrilyn inherited it, but we have to be able to sustain that.” 

Sherrilyn Ifill knows the battle rages under Janai Nelson’s leadership according the Forbes article are on three fronts: (1) Fighting for Truth and LDF’s role in telling that truth ‘…but also to force the country to continue to reckon with that truth.’(2) Protecting the Right to Vote requires addressing voter restrictions that reaches back to our Jim Crow period. The challenge is against suppressing the right to vote by the majority of Americans, according to Nelson “that in the proliferation of voter suppression legislation across the country.  We are now seeing a roll back in ways that we have not seen on such a mass scale before.” (3) Protecting the Right to Protest, keeping this right is fundamental in challenging policies that encourage and incite violence against protestors at an alarming rate. The new president and Director-Council Janai ‘Nelson insists that these three threats create a clear and present danger for our very democracy.” The notion that having these rights as citizens is such a threat to upending the fundamental democratic experiment is what scares defenders of our evolving democratic and constitutional form of government. Sherrilyn Ifill’s plan is to write a book about ‘white supremacy’ as she moves into her next ventures. 

Writing and Art by Lillian L Thompson of Lillianonline, LLC, an art platform that advocates and recognizes global afro women. Visit