Posted by Al Anile

Guest Speaker Audra Wilson, Shriver Center on Poverty Law

Audra Wilson is an attorney associated with Shriver Center on Poverty Law. She was our guest speaker at our weekly zoom meeting of July 7, 2020.

As an attorney, their founder, Sargent Shriver understood the role of the law and of lawyers in accomplishing the goal of equal justice and opportunity for low-income communities. Sarge had a vision of recruiting and supporting sufficient numbers of legal services attorneys to provide reasonable access to an attorney for all low-income people in the country. He also thought that these attorneys should be linked together so that, to the extent possible, they would function as a national law firm for the poor (as opposed to isolated attorneys in scattered storefronts in low-income neighborhoods). The glue for this national law firm was the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, which published Clearinghouse Review, containing action research for lawyers, and maintained a brief bank with hundreds of thousands of poverty law documents that the attorneys could tap for ideas and models, mutual learning and strategizing.
 
In 2001, Shriver gave his name and personal authority to a new project, the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, formerly the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services. It is dedicated to the practice and perpetuation of Sarge’s values-driven methods for bringing the law to bear on community-generated issues involving equal opportunity and social justice. Today, the Shriver Center continues to support and enables the work of other advocates, and engages directly in policy and systemic advocacy on behalf of low-income people and communities across the country.
 
The Shriver Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. Their vision is a nation free from poverty with justice, equality, and opportunity for all.
 

Audra Wilson has been a champion for racial and economic justice for more than 20 years as a public interest lawyer and teacher, policy shaper, community mobilizer, and experienced executive manager. Throughout her career, Wilson has focused on the voices and experiences of communities of color and communities most impacted by injustice. 

Wilson began her legal career as a Welfare Advocacy Staff Attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, where she focused on welfare reform implementation and food security issues in Illinois. She was then tapped by then-state-Senator Barack Obama to serve as the Deputy Press and Policy Director on his U.S. Senate campaign. 

After the U.S. Senate race, Wilson returned to her public interest roots, serving as Director of Diversity Education and Outreach and Adjunct Professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law for 7 years. At Northwestern, she co-founded the first formal consortium of law school diversity professionals in Chicago, seen as a national model. During this time, Wilson also served as a policy advisor to leading candidates for U.S. Senate, Illinois State Treasurer, and Lieutenant Governor.   

In 2013, Wilson accepted a position as Deputy Chief of Staff for United States Congresswoman Robin Kelly in the Second Congressional District of Illinois, where she oversaw all district operations and served as a surrogate for the Congresswoman while she was serving in D.C. Among Wilson’s other responsibilities, she served as lead Illinois coordinator of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.  

As Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, Wilson led critical change to expand the mission of a 100-year old civic engagement organization with nearly 4,000 members and over 40 chapters statewide. Wilson advanced the League’s advocacy on issues of race equity and voting rights and built organizational capacity for fundraising and communications. In October 2019, Wilson was appointed chair of the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues by Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle.  

Wilson holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Spanish from Bucknell University, and a J.D. from Valparaiso University School of Law.