Charlotte E. Ray Award
The Charlotte E. Ray Award is presented to a woman lawyer for her exceptional achievements in the legal profession and extraordinary contribution to the advancement of women in the profession.
The award is named for Charlotte E. Ray, a legal pioneer, and the first African-American female lawyer in the United States.
About Charlotte E. Ray
Charlotte E. Ray was born in New York City on January 13, 1850, to Charles Bennett Ray and Charlotte Augusta Burroughs Ray. Charles was a minister, and editor of the Colored American, an abolitionist newspaper. Charlotte was also an anti-slavery activist who worked with her husband to help escaped slaves travel north to freedom on the Underground Railroad. In the 1860s her family moved to Washington, D.C. where she entered the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth, the only school in Washington, D.C. that allowed African American girls to become pupils.
In 1869, Howard University hired her as a teacher for its Preparatory and Normal Department, however, Ray was not satisfied with being a teacher. Ray applied to Howard University’s Law School, under the name “C.E. Ray” to disguise her gender. University officials reluctantly accepted her application and she excelled at her legal studies, specifically corporate law. Ray graduated in 1872 and became the first African American woman to graduate from an American law school and receive a law degree.
Ray achieved another first in 1872 when she was admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia, which had recently removed the word “male” from its requirements. Ray opened her own law office in Washington, D.C. but found it difficult to make a living as an attorney due to racial and gender bias. She returned to New York in 1879 and became a Brooklyn school teacher.
2021 HONOREE – SHERRILYN IFILL
The 2021 Charlotte E. Ray Award was presented to Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), at the 2021 MCCA Virtual Diversity Gala on October 13, 2021.
Past Charlotte E. Ray Honorees
President and Director-Counsel,
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
Sherrilyn Ifill is the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation’s premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice and equality. LDF was founded in 1940 by legendary civil rights lawyer (and later Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall and became a separate organization from the NAACP in 1957. The lawyers at the Legal Defense Fund developed and executed the legal strategy that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which is widely regarded as the most transformative and monumental legal decision of the 20th century. Ifill is the second woman to lead the organization.
Ifill began her career as a Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, before joining the staff of LDF as an Assistant Counsel in 1988, where she litigated voting rights cases for five years. In 1993, Ifill left LDF to join the faculty at University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. Over 20 years, Ifill taught civil procedure and constitutional law to thousands of law students and pioneered a series of law clinics, including one of the earliest law clinics in the country focused on challenging legal barriers to the reentry of ex-offenders. Ifill is also a prolific scholar who has published academic articles in leading law journals and op-eds and commentaries in leading newspapers. Her 2007 book “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century,” was highly acclaimed and is credited with laying the foundation for contemporary conversations about lynching and reconciliation. A 10th anniversary edition of the book was recently released with a foreword by Bryan Stevenson, the acclaimed lawyer and founder of the national lynching memorial in Montgomery, AL.
In 2013, Ifill was invited back to the Legal Defense Fund – this time to lead the organization as its 7th Director-Counsel. In that role, Ifill has increased the visibility and engagement of the organization in litigating cutting edge and urgent civil rights issues and elevating the organization’s decades-long leadership fighting voter suppression, inequity in education, and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. At critical moments during national political and civil rights crises Ifill’s voice and vision have powerfully influenced our national dialogue. Ifill is a frequent public commentator on racial justice issues, known for her fact-based, richly contextualized analysis of complex racial issues. She is a trusted and valued advisor to civic and community leaders, national civil rights colleagues, and business leaders.
Ifill graduated from Vassar College in 1984 with a B.A. in English and earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1987. She is a recipient of numerous honorary doctorate degrees and awards. In 2019, Ifill was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In 2020, she was named Attorney of the Year by The American Lawyer and was a 2020 Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year. In 2021, Ifill was appointed to President Biden’s Commission on the Supreme Court. She serves on the boards of the Learning Policy Institute, the NYU Law School of Trustees, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Profiles in Courage Advisory Board.
Boggs Media, LLC
Paula Boggs is the founder of Boggs Media, LLC, a business that manages her music, speaking, and other creative business activities. She is a Musician, Public Speaker, Writer, Lawyer and Philanthropist. She is also a Board Member of numerous for-profit and non-profit organizations.
Paula Boggs served as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Law and Corporate Affairs at Starbucks Corporation from 2002 to 2012. Her prior professional experience includes serving as Vice President Legal for Products, Operations, and Information Technology at Dell Computer Corporation, and as a partner at the law firm of Preston Gates & Ellis, LLP. She also had a 14-year career in public service, including as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and in various capacities as an attorney for the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Legal Counsel. She served eight years as a Regular Officer in the United States Army, earned Army Airborne wings and a Congressional appointment to the US Naval Academy – among America’s first women to do so.
Paula Boggs is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and earned a bachelor’s degree in International Studies (economics, energy policy) from Johns Hopkins University. She was also an adjunct professor at the University of Washington School of Law.
Since leaving Starbucks, Paula Boggs has volunteered for a presidential campaign, serves on for-profit and non-profit boards, raises money in support of causes she champions, gives speeches across the United States and beyond, writes music, coproduces albums for, and tours extensively with, Paula Boggs Band. In 2013, President Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and in 2018 she received the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award.
Paula Boggs owns several U.S. Copyrights and is a Voting Member of The Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter.
Michelle C. Ifill
Founder, La Maison Michelle,
Retired Senior Vice President & General Counsel,
Verizon Corporate Services, Inc.
As the recently retired Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Verizon Corporate Services Group, Inc., Michelle was responsible for primary legal oversight and support of the Chief Administration Office, which included Supply Chain and Vendor Management, Supplier Diversity, Global Real Estate, Sustainability, Aviation & Fleet Management. Michelle’s team also had responsibility for a variety of information technology, cyber security, intellectual property and financial services areas. Prior to this most recent appointment, Ms. Ifill was Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for Verizon’s Enterprise Solutions business unit. In this capacity, she was responsible for representing the legal and regulatory interests for Verizon’s $18 billion business unit which oversees all of Verizon’s wireless, wireline, IT and Cloud capabilities for enterprise and government customers globally.
Michelle is the founder of The Women’s Excellence Network (WEN) a professional business development and relationship-building organization. Relatedly, she has continued her practice of providing executive coaching and diversity & inclusion training through WE Consulting LLC. She and her husband are also entrepreneurs in the development and management of their Caribbean spa resort and conference venue, Villa La Maison Michelle, Barbados www.lammbarbadosvilla.com.
Michelle is a founder and former Co-Chair of the Verizon Legal Diversity & Inclusion Council, is the Governance Committee Chair and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for SUNY Purchase College Foundation and is a member of the Audit Committee of the Purchase College Housing Corporation. Active with the National Bar Association, Michelle is a Co-Chair of its annual General Counsel Invitational, as well as on the Advisory Board of the NBA 2025 GC Initiative. Passionate about preparing and empowering our next generation of leaders, Michelle is an Advisory Board Member of the Ron Brown Scholars Program, which focuses on providing mentoring and scholarship assistance to promising high school students of color.
Michelle received a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University and her law degree from Harvard Law School and lives in Westchester County, NY with her husband and teenage daughter.
Michele Coleman Mayes
Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary,
The New York Public Library
The 2018 Charlotte E. Ray Award will be presented to Michele Coleman Mayes, Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, at the MCCA Diversity Gala on October 3, 2018 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Michele Coleman Mayes is Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for the New York Public Library (NYPL). Ms. Mayes joined NYPL in August 2012 after serving as Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Allstate Insurance Company since 2007. She served as a Senior Vice President and the General Counsel of Pitney Bowes Inc. from 2003 to 2007 and in several legal capacities at Colgate-Palmolive from 1992 to 2003. In 1982, Ms. Mayes entered the corporate sector as managing attorney of Burroughs Corporation. After Burroughs and Sperry Corporation merged, creating Unisys Corporation, she was appointed Staff Vice President and Associate General Counsel for Worldwide Litigation. From 1976 through 1982, she served in the U.S. Department of Justice as an Assistant United States Attorney in Detroit and Brooklyn, eventually assuming the role of Chief of the Civil Division in Detroit. Ms. Mayes received a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.
Ms. Mayes served on the Presidential Commission on Election Administration from 2013-2014. She served as Chair of the Commission on Women in the Profession of the American Bar Association from 2014-2017. Effective in 2015, she was appointed as an Advisor to the ABA Business Law Section, and in that same year, became a Fellow of the American College of Governance Counsel. In August 2016, she was elected to the Board of Directors of Gogo Inc.