ABA honors 5 advocates for diversity and inclusion

November 23, 2020

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is one of five recipients selected to receive the 2021 Spirit of Excellence Award, to be presented on Feb. 18 at the ABA Midyear Meeting. The award ceremony will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spirit of Excellence Award recipients (left to right): Barbara L. Creel, Sherrilyn Ifill, Román D. Hernández, Lori E. Lightfoot, and John C. Yang

Spirit of Excellence Award recipients (left to right): Barbara L. Creel, Sherrilyn Ifill, Román D. Hernández, Lori E. Lightfoot, and John C. Yang

The awards, given by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, celebrate lawyers who work to promote racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. It is presented to lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national, state or local level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in law.

Other 2021 winners are:

  • Barbara L. Creel, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law
  • Román D. Hernández, managing partner of Troutman Pepper’s Portland, Oregon, office
  • Lori E. Lightfoot, the first Black female mayor of Chicago and a former U.S. assistant attorney general
  • John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Ifill served as an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) from 1988-93, litigating voting rights cases. She left LDF to teach at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, where she also litigated civil rights cases alongside her students for 20 years. Ifill returned to LDF to lead the organization in 2013 and has emerged as one of the nation’s leading voices in the struggle for racial justice and equality.

Creel has devoted her career to public defense, specializing in Native American rights and individual civil rights. She has extensive experience in tribal courts, federal Indian law and federal criminal law. Her current research centers on the sentencing disparities Native Americans experience in federal courts under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

Hernández, who has a national litigation practice focusing on employment law and commercial litigation, has a long record of community service. As a second-year associate, he was one of three founders of the Oregon Hispanic Bar Association and served as national president of the Hispanic National Bar Association.

Since becoming mayor in 2019, Lightfoot has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities. Prior to her election, Lightfoot served as a senior equity partner at Mayer Brown.

Yang leads the AAJC’s efforts to advance the civil and human rights of Asian Americans to create a fair and equitable society for all through policy advocacy, education and litigation. In 2019, the AAJC and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund represented the interests of Asians, Latinos and Native Americans in successfully barring the Trump administration from including a citizenship question on the 2020 census that would have resulted in an unconstitutional undercount of immigrants and communities of color.


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