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The Next Generation Of Civil Rights Lawyers Could Start Here

The motto "Equal Justice Under Law" adorns the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. A new scholars program named for the first Black justice, Thurgood Marshall, and the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge, Constance Baker Motley, aims to cultivate the next generation of civil rights lawyers.
The motto "Equal Justice Under Law" adorns the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. A new scholars program named for the first Black justice, Thurgood Marshall, and the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge, Constance Baker Motley, aims to cultivate the next generation of civil rights lawyers.

Updated May 17, 2021 at 12:12 PM ET

A new program run by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund seeking to launch the next generation of civil rights lawyers has named its inaugural class of 10 scholars.

LDF sifted through hundreds of applications for the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program, named after the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black member of the Supreme Court, and Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.

The 10 finalists come from the American South or were raised in the region. They include interns at the White House and the Congressional Black Caucus; the youngest board member in the NAACP's National Board; presidents at the Black Student Union; and an assistant school principal.

LDF President Sherrilyn Ifill announced the new class on the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. She said civil rights and voting rights have come under "renewed attack" this year.

"As we have seen over the last several months, our democracy requires vigilant protection, particularly for Black communities in the South, which have yet to realize the full and unqualified protection of this nation's laws and ideals," Ifill said.

The scholars program covers law school tuition, room and board, and incidental expenses, as well as internships and other special training opportunities. LDF Associate Director Janai Nelson said the "elimination" of those financial hurdles is by design.

"This is a vital step in enabling our scholars to pursue their careers as civil rights advocates unencumbered by the mounting student debt crisis in this country, while also providing them professional development experiences to equip them to become impactful civil rights lawyers," Nelson said.

Scholar Shandrea Sellers said the scholarship would allow her to attend law school full time, as opposed to part time. Traelon Rodgers said the program meant he would be able to attend his first choice for law school, the University of California, Berkeley.

"It takes off a heavy, heavy burden for me," said scholar Briana Hayes, who will be attending the University of Georgia School of Law.

The scholars agree to spend the first eight years of their careers working on civil rights in the South on such things as voting rights; eliminating housing and educational disparities; and fighting wrongs in the criminal legal system.

Joel Motley, son of the late judge, welcomed the inaugural class of scholars.

"I am encouraged to know that these Scholars will carry on my mother's work and represent communities in the South with pride, diligence, and the vision needed to reshape our nation," Motley said.

The scholars class includes:

Dominique Erney, Gainesville, Fla.
Ashley Fox, Nashville, Tenn.
Briana Hayes, Baxley, Ga.
Princess Jefferson, Houston
Kendell Long, Dallas
Victor Olofin, Loxahatchee, Fla.
Markus Reneau, New Orleans
Traelon Rodgers, Dallas
Shandrea Sellers, Montgomery, Ala.
Maydrian Strozier-Lowe, St. Louis

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