Leticia Smith-Evans is a highly respected civil rights attorney, with a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has spent her career advocating for access to equal educational opportunities for the most marginalized citizens in our society.
As a former New York City elementary school teacher, Leticia is uniquely positioned to understand that one of the most daunting challenges for educators and students has its genesis in the inequitable distribution of resources. She and other educators have shared with me their desire to see conversations around education include policy reform and advocacy. Education reform must become a priority for parents, educators, advocates, elected officials, corporations and individuals like you and me.
Leticia left teaching and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Law School where she earned her J.D. degree. Eventually she was recruited by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). Today, she is an attorney with the Education Practice Group. For full disclosure, Leticia is my LDF colleague and friend.
LDF’s rich history is distinguished by its coordinated legal assault against enforced public school segregation that would last for two decades. This campaign culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that has been described as “the most important American governmental act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Court’s unanimous decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine of legally sanctioned discrimination. As with most hard-won battles, victory was not immediate. There was massive resistance to public school desegregation and LDF brought suit against school districts to ensure the promise of the Brown victory. With these subsequent victories, the Supreme Court issued mandates that required the elimination of desegregation. My friends and I often remind ourselves, had it not been for Brown none of us, particularly women, would be who we are, or where we are today.
Like her LDF predecessors, Leticia continues to guide the educational conversation for the under-represented and under-served. Her present work focuses on desegregation and voluntary integration, access to higher education and school discipline reform. Many may find it hard to believe but yes there are places throughout this country where segregated school districts still exist. LDF’s desegregation cases have taken her to Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee – just to name a few.
Leticia’s work to curb school pushout and ensure access to higher education is also critically important. As we now see, problems in school discipline continue to emerge in the media. There is great public support to bring about reform in this area. Leticia has played an instrumental role in gathering stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, advocates, school administrators, public officials, policy and lawmakers to implement alternatives to overly punitive disciplinary measures and keep students in the classroom. Less than two years ago, she took the lead in pulling together a multi-stakeholder convening titled Race, Gender, Discipline and Justice: Students Locked Out of a Quality Education, in Savannah, Georgia. There were more than 200 educators and advocates in attendance. To read more about this convening, please click here.
Leticia continues to work alongside her colleagues as they await the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. This is the first federal litigation challenging the use of race in university admissions since the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger which upheld an admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School and broadly affirmed the educational importance of diversity. The Fisher case was argued before the Supreme Court in October 2012. A ruling in the case is expected before the end of the current Supreme Court term.
When Leticia is not advocating inside of the courtroom, or working in coalition with policymakers and other advocates, she volunteers with several boards and non-profit organizations. She is a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Wisconsin Law School. In 2011, Leticia was recognized as a member of the University of Wisconsin’s alumni association as one of their Forward Under 40 honorees. Closer to home, she is President of the Board of Directors of the Opera Company of Brooklyn, which was created in 2000 to promote talented young artists, while providing affordable and accessible opera to New York City communities. She also serves as a career guide for the NYU Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service program.
Her other recent accolades include being selected to receive: a fellowship with the National Council for Research on Women – American Express Fellowship: Building the Next Generation of Women Leaders in the NonProfit Sector, the Brown v. Board of Education Award for outstanding commitment to equal educational opportunity and social justice, the National Association of Women Lawyers Award for outstanding professional potential and service enhancing the legal profession, the Legal Aid Society Pro Bono Award for outstanding pro bono contributions and the Wisconsin State Bar/Law School Academic Award for highest achievement in constitutional law. Remember, this list of accomplishments belongs to a woman who is under 40 years old! Just imagine what she will achieve in the next 40 years.
Leticia has distinguished herself as a young woman with a huge vision and she intends to see it through. We at Brooklyn Legends admire Leticia for her tireless work as an advocate for racial and social justice. It is our pleasure to salute her. We will also continue to update you on Leticia’s movements and provide ways that you may also join in the conversation around education reform.
Photo of Leticia – by Keith Major/Ken Barboza
Front page coverage of the 1954 Brown decision – georgiainfo.gallileo.usg.edu
Photo of rally on the steps of the Supreme Court – Monique Brizz-Walker
Information re Brown v. Board of Education – www.naacpldf.org
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