2011 Forward under 40 Award Honoree
UW Majors: Law, Educational Administration, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis
Age: 33 | Brooklyn, NY
Assistant Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
If it takes a village to raise a child, Leticia Smith-Evans' village includes her ancestors and family, civil rights advocates and the Badger community. As a law student, she received guidance and encouragement from UW faculty, administrators and alumni that supported her pursuit of a career devoted to public service and ensuring civil rights.
"Throughout my time at UW, the school community consistently embodied support, encouragement and commitment to providing the best education to all students," Smith-Evans says. "Since graduating from the Law School, at every job that I have had, there has been at least one fellow Badger working alongside me — further testament to the national presence of UW alumni and their Wisconsin school spirit."
Today, much of her work at LDF focuses on educational issues such as school desegregation, voluntary integration, school discipline reform and closing achievement and opportunity gaps. Previously, Smith-Evans was a litigation associate at a large, international law firm, where she was recognized for delivering pro bono services; a federal judicial law clerk; a policy adviser for Governor Jim Doyle focusing on education and work-force development issues; and a New York City public school teacher recognized for fostering high academic achievement in her students. "I will always be a civil rights advocate," she says.
She has been recognized on numerous occasions for her leadership, commitment to social justice and professional and academic success. Her accolades include 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. A native New Yorker, Smith-Evans is admitted to the state bars of Wisconsin, New York and the District of Columbia, and she is admitted to practice in several federal courts.
Smith-Evans is quick to credit her mentors and the village that inspired her commitment to public service. "Those who were here before me and paved the way so that I could have the opportunities that I have had throughout my life — my ancestors, grandparents, parents, family and civil rights advocates — they are all truly inspiring, having fought and struggled in ways that will likely not be comparable to any experience that I will ever have or challenge that I will ever face," she says. "I would hope that I could be as brave as them, to live during a time when segregation was the law of the land. It would be an incredible experience to walk in their shoes — it would give me the deepest understanding of what I advocate for on a daily basis."
In her own words
What do you most miss about campus?
I miss waking up every morning and looking out the window at Lake Monona — even when it was frozen and I could see people ice fishing from their ice huts. The view of the lake was absolutely beautiful.
What was your favorite class?
There were two. The first was a Constitutional Law seminar with Professor Linda Greene. The course content was fascinating and the class was diverse — both led to great discourse, and we covered some of the most important civil rights issues of the past and our time. The second was an Education Law course with Professor Julie Mead — that course brought new meaning to the words "education law." Professor Greene and Professor Mead are exceptional educators and mentors.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
The sky's the limit. If you're not happy, something has got to change.
What's your favorite quote?
"You your own best thing." — from Toni Morrison's Beloved.
What was your first job?
Working in the library at my high school. It was a very cool job — the best part was being surrounded by books.