Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has announced she is stepping down.
Ifill has led the racial justice organization for nearly a decade, taking the position in January 2013.
Janai Nelson, currently the Associate Director-Counsel, will assume Ifill’s role.
Under Ifill’s leadership, the LDF has grown both its staff and funding, leading legal fights for voting rights, economic justice, and racial equity.
“I love this organization so much,” she told ESSENCE. “I love our staff, and I love our work. But I’m also super thrilled that Janai will be taking the helm. She’s been a terrific partner with me in this work. And I’m just incredibly excited about the next chapter.”
Ifill first joined LDF in 1988 as Assistant Counsel, litigating voting rights cases for five years. She then taught at the University of Maryland School of Law before returning to LDF in 2013 and enhancing its presence.
“I think we have restored LDF’s influence and voice as a leader in shaping American democracy and in influencing the course of it,” she said. “Our staff was 55 when I started. We’ll be 230 at the end of this fiscal year. That growth is so we can meet whatever is the challenge. Our financial growth is so that we can meet the challenge.”
And the challenges are in no short supply.
“So much is happening that is genuinely disturbing, and particularly racial violence and the kind of abandon with which racial discrimination has re-emerged with the former president having given permission to many Americans to be their worst selves,” Ifill said, referring to America’s climate under Donald Trump.
“On the other hand,” Ifill added, “the tensions that have been lying below the surface have been surfaced. And that’s critically important. We can only fight effectively what we can see and identify. We were trying to alert people to this for some time,” including racial injustice she observed that persisted— like voter suppression, housing discrimination, and educational inequity— even under a Black president and Attorney General.
The LDF is continuing to grow to face these issues, including expanding to Atlanta with a southern regional office, and it will have a new leader in Janai Nelson to guide the organization beginning spring 2022.
“Janai is just flat out brilliant and courageous and determined and loves LDF, loves our staff, [and] loves Black people.”