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October 03, 2023 MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Cary Martin Shelby

Cary Martin Shelby joined Chicago-Kent College of Law as the Ralph Brill Endowed Chair Professor of Law in July 2023. She also is Co-Chair of the Section's African American Affairs Committee.

Cary Martin Shelby, Co-Chair, African American Affairs Committee, CRSJ

Cary Martin Shelby, Co-Chair, African American Affairs Committee, CRSJ

Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?

Multiple forms of injustice shaped my view of the world in ways that initially made me feel hopeless. My parents’ mental health challenges ignited our vicious descent into chronic poverty when I was about 5 years old. Accessing social services such as welfare and affordable housing was close to impossible. My mother struggled in complying with the work requirements, and other rules associated with receiving cash assistance through public aid. The waiting list for Section 8 vouchers was perpetually filled. Homelessness and hunger ultimately became our daily reality. The Department of Children and Family Services here in Chicago, IL eventually revoked guardianship from my parents shortly before my 8th grade graduation. I lived in six foster homes and other placements over the course of my high school education.

Yet within these broken systems were sometimes extraordinary individuals who fought for my survival even when I felt like giving up. This intricate mosaic of resources enabled me to continuously inch forward. I relied on countless resources such as a free college education and assistance to direct services such as food, shelter, and childcare over the course of my journey into higher education. While my mosaic forms a beautiful picture of glory, broken systems still exist, causing countless individuals to slip through their cracks. Those who have seemingly fallen deserve to be lifted. They, along with the hope given to me by my ever-evolving mosaic, continuously drives my faith for a better world. 

What drives you?

The rich mosaic of people who fought for me, even when I felt despondent, is what ultimately drives the essence of my work. I may never be able to personally thank every single individual who fought for me during my lowest points. Many were in fact strangers whom I never met. They advocated for my success on multiple fronts without expecting anything in return. It is through my work that I express gratitude to these individuals.  I honor them through my teaching, scholarship, and service as a law professor. I honor them through the work that I intend to do through CRSJ. I honor them through my own organization, DaCasiom® LLC where I assist students in higher education through the DaCasiom® Blog, Care Package Program, and Speaking Engagements. I also honor them through the joy that I have meticulously built within my own personal life. 

What does social justice mean to you?

Social justice generally represents equal access to an array of economic and social opportunities as well as political rights. In reading between the lines, social justice also entails having autonomy over every aspect of your life. It translates into entitlement to humanity, including our overall safety and well-being. It symbolizes prosperity for all irrespective of the negative statistics associated with one’s story. It likewise means having access to multiple avenues for utilizing your voice and deploying it as often as possible. And best of all, social justice is the freedom to pursue unremitting joy. 

What do you feel is the greatest challenge to social justice today?

I believe that the greatest challenge facing social justice encompasses a lack of empathy. As a society, we are not given many tools for increasing empathy within educational and professional spaces. We often experience life in a vacuum without establishing meaningful connections with people from different backgrounds. In a similar vein, this lack of empathy is perpetuated by a lack of accountability when it comes to underrepresented communities. Existing within systems where accountability is lacking with respect to grave harms inflicted on our most vulnerable communities, detracts from our humanity. This ultimately contributes to our collective lack of empathy when it comes to the people who need it the most.

What is a piece of advice to give law students and young lawyers that want to make a meaningful impact on civil rights and social justice in today’s world?

Opportunities for social justice exist within every aspect of your career. It can include working directly for an organization that pursues a social justice-oriented mission. It can also include board membership within such organizations, and other supporting roles or contributions. You can instead pursue social justice through pro bono work at firms that do not have a direct social justice directive. It can similarly happen through advocacy for underrepresented groups within your organization. The opportunities are limitless, and you are free to define precisely how this looks at various stages of your career. 

What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about? 

I am currently under contract with Cambridge University Press for my forthcoming book project, “Markets for Black Pain: Law and Marginalization as a Commodity.” Defining Black Pain is the first novel endeavor of this project. It relies on a Critical Race Theory lens to produce a broad definition of Black Pain and proceeds with an in-depth historical analysis to reveal just how deeply embedded cycles of racism and its resulting commodification are within the development and growth of our economy since its inception. These historical cycles of racism and commodification, where accountability, recognition, and access were virtually nonexistent, created a pathway where modern commodifiers can similarly operate in a regulatory environment where accountability and access are severely limited. This historical analysis naturally leads to a succinct taxonomy of modern commodifiers of Black Pain which includes a wide variety of private enterprises. Following this necessary categorization, this book tackles the arduous process of outlining how these commodifiers are insufficiently regulated in terms of protecting economies from cascading harms.

What do you do to relax in your spare time?

During my spare time, I enjoy running, painting, writing, cooking, and doing anything that entails creating. I also enjoy spending time with my friends and family. My husband, 21-year-old son, and 6-year-old daughter, bring me endless streams of joy.

What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?

Creating is my life source. 

Cary Martin Shelby

Ralph Brill Endowed Chair Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law

Cary Martin Shelby joined Chicago-Kent College of Law as the Ralph Brill Endowed Chair Professor of Law in July 2023. She specializes in corporate and securities law and teaches a variety of courses such as Contracts, Business Associations, Securities Regulation, Corporate Finance, and a seminar on Investment Funds. Her research generally encompasses regulatory issues related to hedge funds and other pooled investment vehicles. It further examines the extent to which the regulatory apparatus provided under corporate and securities laws, filtered through a Critical Race Theory lens, could better protect against more expansive notions of systemic risk generated by racist practices and policies. Shelby has published articles in Northwestern University Law Review (forthcoming), The California Law Review, The Business Lawyer, Boston College Law Review, among other journals and periodicals. Shelby is currently under contract with Cambridge University Press for her forthcoming book project, “Markets for Black Pain: Law and Marginalization as a Commodity.” With respect to her public service, she has since founded DaCasiom®, LLC to assist students in higher education who are facing adversities such as poverty and limited familial support, through her DaCasiom® Blog, Care Package Program, and Speaking Engagements. Shelby has recently been appointed to serve as the Co-Chair of the African American Affairs Committee of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. In terms of her educational background, Shelby received her B.S. in Finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her J.D. from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She then practiced law in the Investment Funds, Advisers and Derivatives Group with Sidley Austin LLP for close to four years prior to her career in academia.