We are thrilled to welcome Nicole Austin-Hillery, President & CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, as the keynote conversation for the 2023 Summer Forum. Ms. Austin-Hillery has dedicated her life and career to fighting for systemic change for marginalized communities. Her advocacy efforts not only work to change oppressive systems, but also lead the change for how Americans understand those systems and the interconnectedness of human rights concerns. Her work is an inspiration as it uplifts the voices and experiences of those that are not typically heard or seen to better society for all.
Ms. Austin-Hillery grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She grew up in a community similar to many others, friendly neighbors that kept their doors and windows open that, because of economic circumstances, qualified for public housing. In school, Ms. Austin-Hillery always gravitated toward topics of economic justice, racial injustice, and defending those that could not speak for themselves. At the age of 13 she already knew she wanted to apply her skills and passion as a civil and human rights lawyer.
Ms. Austin-Hillery brought her passion to Carnegie Melon University, where she initially intended on studying drama. Once she arrived on campus though, she embraced her other love – advocacy. This led her to pursue a degree in history. In 2000, Ms. Austin-Hillery graduated from Howard University School of Law and began her work as the George N. Lindsay Civil Rights Law Fellow for The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, focusing her work in housing discrimination. After her fellowship, Ms. Austin-Hillery spent 6 years working as an attorney for Mehri & Skalet, PLLC., where she advocated on behalf of women and people of color experiencing workplace discrimination.
In 2008, she took the helm as the founding director and counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C. office. Ms. Austin-Hillery represented the organization before Congress and the Executive Branch on issues like criminal justice, racial justice, voting rights, and good government for ten years.
Ms. Austin-Hillery continued to advocate for systemic change when she became the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch in 2018. In her position, she led efforts to end violations in abusive systems. Her advocacy worked to combat systemic racism, improve the U.S. immigration system, tackle problems within the domestic criminal justice system, and advocated for policies to address poverty and inequality by international human rights standards. “I work to help elevate issues for communities and people who have often historically been discarded, disfranchised and set aside. I am able to help them tell their stories and to position them to give voice to their experiences,” she explains. “That is what I enjoy the most, and that is why I do this work.”
From 2018-2019 she also served as the President of the Washington Bar Association, is a past President and current Board member of the Washington Council of Lawyers, formerly served as an Advisory Committee Member of the ABA Standing Committee on Election Law, serves on the Board of Common Cause and is a former co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Defense Function Committee. She has also been an adjunct civil rights professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and is a former Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow at Harvard Law School.
Now, as the President & CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, she is stewarding the organization to build and enhance the power of relationships and networks across the private, public, and corporate sectors to advance the global Black community by developing leaders, informing policy, and educating the public.
We are looking forward to hearing from Ms. Austin-Hillery about the important milestones in her work and the importance of pro bono and public-interest lawyers in the fight for civil rights and an equitable society.
The Summer Forum Keynote will take place on Wednesday, June 7, 2022, from 12:00-2:00 pm ET. Register here to attend and follow the conversation on social media using #SumFo23 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.