The Equal Justice Society has selected Novella Coleman as our 2012-2013 Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellow, effective October 2012.
“We’re excited to have Novella join us later this year as our Motley Fellow,” said EJS President Eva Paterson. “We look forward to adding her experience in litigation research and death penalty defense work to our talented legal team.”
The Equal Justice Society established the Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellowship in 2006 to nurture the talents of a new generation of progressive lawyers to transform anti-discrimination law and policy. Judge Motley (September 14, 1921-September 28, 2005) was the first African American woman to serve on the federal bench and the first African American woman to serve as chief judge. She also served as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s associate counsel and participated in writing the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education. She went on to shatter other gender and race barriers as the first African American woman elected to the New York state senate in 1964 and to the Manhattan borough presidency in 1965.
“We’re humbled to honor the legacy of Judge Constance Baker Motley through this fellowship,” said EJS Legal Director Allison Elgart. “Like our past fellows, Novella will bring a unique mix of skills and experiences to enrich our legal team and our organization.”
Novella is currently a criminal justice and drug policy fellow at the ACLU of Northern California, where she focuses on the implementation of California’s Public Safety Realignment Legislation. In her advocacy she encourages counties to utilize evidence-based alternatives to incarceration as they assume responsibility for low-level offenders who were previously under the supervision of the state. Her work also includes identifying and monitoring litigation issues that arise as the state implements Realignment.
Prior to her fellowship at the ACLU of Northern California, Novella was a law clerk at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. She worked on impact litigation and policy advocacy affecting domestic workers.
Only five years ago, Novella was a teacher at a Seattle private school where she and other Black teachers and students experienced hostile treatment based on racial stereotypes.
“After being systematically silenced whenever I demanded a response to this discrimination, I finally had the opportunity to be heard when I and another black teacher filed an employment discrimination claim against the school,” said Novella. “While I definitely encountered challenges as I looked to the legal system for justice, I also felt liberated from the hopelessness that I had experienced for a year. This led me to pursue a career in civil rights advocacy.”
Novella graduated from Harvard Law School in May 2011. She was honored as the Dean’s Scholar in Child Advocacy Clinic and as an Irving R. Kaufman Fellow (awarded for demonstrated potential for outstanding career in public service), worked as an Equal Justice America 2010 Summer Fellow, and participated in the Black Law Students’ Association Learning and Mentorship Program.
At Harvard Law she honed her legal research and writing skills while accumulating more than 1,500 pro bono hours at various clinical placements where her case work exposed her to several areas of the law, including habeas corpus, civil rights, criminal law, immigration, and child welfare and education law. She also interned at the Boston Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, where she worked on discrimination claims involving employment, housing, and other areas of public accommodations.
As a 3L, she clerked at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., where she performed research and drafted motions and petitions related to death penalty defense, constitutional merits of restrictions to attorney communication with a client, prosecutorial misconduct and jury instructions.
She received her M.A. in Education from Stanford University where she received the School of Education Cosby Fellow award (for commitment to students in underserved areas).
Novella’s B.A.S. in Mathematics and Philosophy is also from Stanford, where she received the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence, the Mustard Seed Foundation Bakke Scholar (awarded for development of Christian leadership), and the 2000-2001 Female NAACP Stanford Chapter Member of the Year. She was active in the Stanford Gospel Choir and the NAACP Stanford Chapter. She was also a Research Assistant in Race and Social Justice in the Psychology Department.
Novella lives in Oakland, speaks Spanish, and enjoys music, pro football and cinnamon.
Photo credit: Harvard Law School