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Columbia Law School graduate awarded inaugural Singer Social Justice Fellowship

June 15, 2015 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Christopher D. Wilds, pictured at Columbia Law School in front of a portrait of Constance Baker Motley, a 1946 Columbia Law School graduate who worked at the NAACP LDF (including on the Brown v. Board of Education case) before becoming the nation's first female black federal judge. Photo courtesy of Columbia Law School
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Columbia Law School graduate Christopher D. Wilds ’15 has been awarded the inaugural Herbert and Nell Singer Social Justice Fellowship in recognition of his substantial commitment, ability and preparation for making a difference as a public interest lawyer.

As a Singer Fellow, Wilds will join the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as a staff attorney, with a focus on K-12 school desegregation cases. After the one-year fellowship, he will clerk for Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Personally, The Herbert and Nell Singer Social Justice Fellowship represents the ability to overcome the kind of financial obstacles that often force young lawyers, in particular people of color, to choose careers outside of the public interest field,” Wilds said. “With the assistance of the Singer Fellowship, I will have the extraordinary opportunity to work at LDF, the nation’s leading civil rights organization, while developing the lawyering skills and social justice contacts that will aid me throughout my public interest legal career.”

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In his application for the fellowship, Wilds noted that 25 percent of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and a third do not offer chemistry.

“These resource disparities and inequities are reflected in student outcomes: Black students graduate from high school at a rate of 66 percent while white students graduate at a rate of 83 percent,” he said.

At LDF, Wilds will follow in the footsteps of generations of distinguished Columbia Law School faculty and alumni who put their talent and skills to work as civil rights advocates at the organization, including the late Constance Baker Motley ’46, Professor Jack Greenberg ’48, Professor Olatunde JohnsonProfessor James Liebman and former Professor Theodore M. Shaw ’79, among many others. He will be supervised in part by LDF Deputy Director of Litigation, Jin Hee Lee ’00.

Wilds was honored as a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar for superior academic achievement at the Law School, where he dedicated himself to public interest work. He completed a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and, as an Anti-Discrimination Center fellow, worked on employment discrimination cases at the public interest law firm Cuti Hecker Wang. In addition, he served as director of community service for the Black Law Students Association and submissions editor for the Columbia Journal of Race and Law. In his last semester, he assisted in the planning and coordination of the 2015 Paul Robeson Conference, which focused on Bayard Rustin’s “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” and the relationship between grassroots protests and sociopolitical change. 

Wilds’ commitment to the public interest—and to education specifically—began when he was an undergraduate at Morgan State University, where he worked with the Office of Community Service to provide free and low-cost educational programs for local, low-income students.

“Chris’ pre-law school work with low-income youth of color made him passionate about using his law degree on their behalf and he has worked hard at Columbia to prepare for that goal,” said Ellen P. Chapnick, dean for Social Justice Initiatives. “I am grateful to the Singer Foundation for enabling him to start his career working on important access to equal education cases with talented expert lawyers at the LDF.”

The Herbert and Nell Singer Social Justice Fellowship honors Herbert Singer, a member of the Columbia Law School Class of 1928, and his commitment to providing support to meaningful learning experiences in public interest law.

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