Cornell William Brooks, a dedicated civil rights leader, attorney and minister, will address the graduates of the law school at commencement on Friday, May 18. The law school will celebrate 163 graduates during its 10th commencement ceremony, held at the Kimmel Center, in Verizon Hall. The event will celebrate 125 graduates who will receive a JD, 30 who will receive a Master of Legal Studies and eight who will receive an LLM in American Legal Practice.
The former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is currently a senior fellow at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice and serves as a visiting professor of Social Ethics, Law and Justice Movements at Boston University’s School of Law and School of Theology.
For over three decades, Brooks has been a champion of civil rights – a leader, working to create change and social justice. From 2014 to 2017, he served as the 18th president and CEO of the NAACP, inspiring support for initiatives to increase voter turnout and promote social justice issues. In 2014, Brooks led a seven-day “Journey for Justice” march to the Missouri state capitol after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen. During his tenure, he led an explosive growth in membership, led an expansion of partnerships, increased visibility in the media and the streets, filled a nearly $4 million deficit, raised $80 million dollars, and secured 11 legal victories against voter suppression in a year. He also testified in the U.S. Senate for civil rights, and led many high-profile demonstrations from Ferguson, Missouri to Flint, Michigan.
Prior to his tenure as the head of the NAACP, Brooks held several other leadership roles including head of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington and trial attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. He also served as senior council for the Federal Communication’s Office of Communication Business Opportunities.
Brooks was born in South Carolina and is a fourth-generation minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Jackson State University and his master’s in divinity from Boston University’s School of Theology. He received a law degree from Yale Law School, where he was also the senior editor of the Yale Law Journal. Brooks received a judicial clerkship under U.S. District Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III.
Brooks, for his commitment to activism, leadership and legal acumen, will receive the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in addition to giving the commencement address.