20th Annual Sylvania Woods Conference Explores the Future of the Profession for Black Lawyers

Kojo Nnamdi to receive North Star Award
L-R: Panelists Professor Cynthia Jones, Benjamin Wilson, principal, Beveridge & Diamond PC, Claudia Withers, COO, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Judge Emmet Sullivan, Professors Jeremy Duru and Angela Davis, and Kent Lollis, executive director for diversity initiatives at the Law School Admission Council


On April 23, American University Washington College of Law will welcome many members of the legal community to its annual Sylvania Woods Conference on African Americans and the Law, which in 2016 celebrates 20 years since its founding.  Following opening remarks by Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ’76, the day-long conference invites law students, alumni, and the American University community to listen to and engage in conversations with thought leaders in the judiciary, civil rights, legal education, and criminal law, among others.  

Named for the late Judge Sylvania Woods ‘60, one of the early African American graduates of the law school, the conference will examine issues related to public policy, politics, law, and education and their impact on the African-American community over these last twenty years that have included the historic, two-term administration of President Barack Obama. The Black Law Student Association also will host a conversation exploring the opportunities for African American students and junior legal professionals.

During the awards luncheon, graduating student Makia Weaver ’16 will be presented with the Rising Star Award for camaraderie among her peers, while alumnus Alex Johnson ’05, executive director for the Children’s Defense Fund-California, will receive the Hairston Alumni Award. For the prestigious North Star Award, the conference planning committee selected Kojo Nnamdi, the host of WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show, and “the best radio interviewer in town,” according to The Washington Post. This award acknowledges outstanding service by an African American to American University Washington College of Law and/or the Washington community. Its past honorees include jurists, academics, legal executives, and journalists.

The Honorable Reggie B. Walton ’74, senior judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, will offer closing remarks. The conference is organized annually by the law school’s Office of Diversity Services – directed by Sherry Weaver – and will conclude with a friends and alumni reunion and networking reception. 

“This conference, now celebrating 20 years, has consistently brought together a constructive cross-section of legal theorists and practitioners, as well as other stakeholders, who are dedicated to strengthening African-American life and culture,” Weaver said.  “I look forward to this dynamic event and am confident that the conference will continue to be an invaluable resource for African Americans for years to come.”

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