Despite enormous progress made over decades to eradicate racism from the New York State Courts, equal justice under law remains elusive. Our shared responsibility, however, is not to find fault—it is to find remedies.
As we emerge from the most devastating pandemic in living memory, it is particularly important to celebrate the lights guiding us in the darkness. These beacons of hope can be found in every corner of New York. Today, we would like to take a moment to celebrate trailblazers from the past and present.
One such trailblazer was a civil rights leader, trusted right hand to Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP, Assistant Attorney General of California, and a U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. Somehow this civil rights leader also found time to be a founding organizer of the Peace Corps and its first African American director, United Nations representative, President of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and inaugural chair of the first court-based commission in the United States dedicated to racial and ethnic fairness. These are only a few extraordinary achievements from Flushing’s favorite son—Ambassador Franklin H. Williams, a trailblazer who represented the best of America’s efforts to live up to its lofty founding ideals.
In recognition of all the above accomplishments, the Chief Judge of the State of New York, Hon. Janet DiFiore, declared that October 22, 2021, be proclaimed “Franklin H. Williams Day” in honor of the distinguished civil rights attorney and statesman on what would have been his 104th birthday. We thank Chief Judge DiFiore again for her unwavering commitment to advancing equality and her zero-tolerance policy against bias and discrimination.
The Williams Commission has the extraordinary pleasure of congratulating another trailblazer, Hon. Shirley Troutman, on her historic appointment to the highest court in New York State. Judge Troutman is only the second Black woman to join the New York Court of Appeals in its nearly 175-year history. The Williams Commission is delighted that her longstanding record of outstanding jurisprudence and commitment to equal justice have been recognized at the highest levels and the Commission wishes her the very best in her new role.
The Williams Commission warmly welcomes our newest Co-Chair—Hon. Richard Rivera, a trailblazer in upstate New York and favorite son of the Bronx. His fellow Commissioners have always been effusive in their praise of his judicial wisdom, the depths of his empathy, and his commitment to the cause of equal justice.
This is a uniquely exciting time for the Williams Commission, whose mission for equal justice under law has never been more relevant or urgent, a reality reflected by the increase in resources provided to the Commission, including additional Commission staff. With increased resources and staff, the Williams Commission will be better able to advance its mission to address racial and ethnic bias and ensure equal justice in the New York State Courts.
The Williams Commission also wishes to recognize Hon. Edwina Richardson Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, and her staff for their tireless work to implement Secretary Johnson’s recommendations. The Commission is deeply thankful for Judge Mendelson and her invaluable support.
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring equal justice in our courts and the Williams Commission urges you to join us in this critical work.