NYC Mayoral Candidate Maya Wiley speaks at a press conference outside a polling location at Campos Plaza Community Center on June 12, 2021 in New York City. (Shutterstock)
By Civil Rights
WASHINGTON – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights announced today that it and its sister organization, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, have selected civil rights attorney and activist, and NBC News and MSNBC Legal Analyst Maya Wiley to assume the leadership of both organizations. The chairs of the two organizations’ boards made the announcement after a joint board meeting to ratify the consensus recommendation of a 15-member joint board search committee. Wiley will hold the titles of president and CEO of both organizations and officially assume the roles on May 2, 2022.
“We cannot be more thrilled to welcome Maya Wiley to her new role,” said Judith Lichtman, chair of The Leadership Conference board. “She will bring passion, experience, and the leadership skills needed to tackle the challenges for the future. She brings a deep understanding and historical perspective of where we have been and a recognition for the painful times we live in. As we looked for a new president, we wanted someone who understood the excruciating problems of the moment that cry out for leadership for the future – and we have found that in Maya.”
Wiley, currently an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst, will succeed Wade Henderson, who has served as interim president and CEO since January 2021. Henderson previously served as president and CEO from June 1996 through June 2017. Henderson was succeeded by Vanita Gupta, who is currently serving as the Associate Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice.
James Rucker, chair of The Leadership Conference Education Fund board, described Wiley, 58, as “precisely the kind of leader we need, both for this moment, and as we confront the challenges and opportunities of the future.”
“From her upbringing as the daughter of a civil rights leader, to the roles she has played a civil rights lawyer, to leading efforts and organizations focused on democracy and dignity for all, to serving as a educator and communicator—Maya has an acute understanding of where we are, how we’ve gotten here, and where we need to go, in service of the ideals of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund. And she has the demonstrated leadership to help us collectively get there,” Rucker said. “We are also forever indebted to Wade Henderson, for helping us get to this moment, and for returning to the helm during a period of transition. For that, we are deeply grateful.”
Maya Wiley is a nationally respected civil rights attorney and activist who has dedicated her life to fighting for justice, equality, and fairness. The daughter of a leader in the civil rights and economic justice movements, Wiley has held key positions both inside and outside of government. Early in her career, she focused on multiple racial justice issues as a staff member of the ACLU and then the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. She has also worked in the Civil Division of the U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Wiley also co-founded the nonprofit Center for Social Inclusion, a policy organization dedicated to ending racial inequity through structural reform. She was also a senior advisor on race and poverty at the Open Society Foundations.
The first Black woman counsel to the Mayor of New York City, Wiley advised the Mayor on civil and immigrant rights, among other policy issues. Following her time at City Hall, Wiley moved to academia as a faculty member and senior vice president for social justice at the New School University and Henry Cohen professor of public & urban policy at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment. While there, she chaired the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the city’s police watchdog agency. As chair, she successfully pushed for a vote on proceedings against Daniel Pantaleo whose illegal chokehold killed Eric Garner. That move led to the CCRB’s successful administrative prosecution of Pantaleo that resulted in his firing. Wiley’s tenure at the CCRB was marked by increased case closure rates, increased transparency, and an intense focus on public outreach so that potential victims of police abuse were aware of ways to seek the board’s assistance.
As a professor of public & urban policy at the New School, Wiley founded the Digital Equity Laboratory on universal and inclusive broadband. She also served as a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
“The Leadership Conference and the coalition are the epicenter of the ongoing fight for civil and human rights that endures and has become more urgent, with the rise of hate, the attack on history, and the challenges of voting in our democracy. It has been at the forefront of American history and remains a fierce force fighting to define our future,” said Wiley. “The Education Fund provides the critical analysis and information we need to change hearts and minds, and to bring about much needed change. I am humbled and hyped to lead these organizations that are committed to making the promise of a more perfect union a reality for all people.”
“Wade Henderson and Vanita Gupta are two leaders I deeply respect and who were outstanding leaders of the organizations. I am honored to follow in their footsteps. The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund have always been necessary, but now are even more important. The progress we’ve made as a people, across our many movements, is in danger. The dangerous erosion of our democracy and our fundamental rights and the attack on truth and knowledge must be confronted. Coming together across communities and creeds, cultures and competencies, we must continue to fight for justice, fairness, and equality for all.”
The two organizations conducted a comprehensive search for Gupta’s replacement with the help of nationally renowned executive search firm BoardWalk Consulting. Ultimately, Wiley stood out for her long-standing commitment to civil and human rights, her impeccable background, and integrity.
Henderson, who plans to remain active in the struggle for civil and human rights, said Wiley would bring new energy, fresh ideas, and strong leadership to the organizations.
“I was pleased to pass the baton of leadership to Vanita, and I am again pleased to pass the baton to Maya,” said Henderson. “I have known and worked with Maya for many years, and I know she is perfect for this job. Her commitment to the principles the organizations hold dear are exactly what we need. She will take the civil and human rights movement to the next level. While our struggles are as old as the nation, the times we live in have changed, creating new challenges to overcome, but also new opportunities to build an America as good as its ideals.”
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU
“Maya Wiley is the perfect leader for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at this critical crossroads in our history. With our country’s commitment to fairness, justice, dignity, and equality hanging in the balance, Maya has the clear-eyed pragmatism, deep commitment, and political savviness to make a real and lasting difference in the years ahead. She has credibility and stature across communities and understands that the way forward requires creativity, commitment, and when needed, compromise. The Leadership Conference and the country are lucky that Maya Wiley has heeded the call to serve in this vital role at this critical juncture.”
Lee Saunders, president, AFSCME
“The Leadership Conference has made an exceptional choice in selecting Maya Wiley as its next leader. In this time of major challenges, Maya is exactly the right person for the job. She has time and again demonstrated her commitment to justice, fairness, and inclusion, and has long understood that workers’ rights are civil and human rights. I know the labor community is thrilled to work with her as the incoming leader of this important coalition.”
Maria Town, president and CEO, American Association of People with Disabilities
“Maya Wiley has a long history of bold, visionary, and community-centered leadership. I am confident that with her as the new president and CEO, The Leadership Conference and its member organizations will be all the more capable of working toward a more open, inclusive, and just society for all.”
John Yang, president and executive director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC
“Maya Wiley is an exceptional choice to lead the nation’s premiere civil and human rights coalition. She has both the vision required to inspire, and the practical skills needed to be a successful leader of our diverse groups. As we continue to tackle the issues impacting all of our communities, I am confident that Maya will help us fight for a better future, for all.”
Patrick Gaspard, president, Center for American Progress
“The selection of Maya Wiley as the new president of The Leadership Conference is a bold choice which signals an enduring commitment to the work of civil rights but a determination to lead with innovation and with deep solidarity across movements. Maya is a proven coalition builder, who has been impactful at the intersection of public policy and public mobilization. At this make-or-break point for our democracy, and at a moment when there are real prospects for lasting progressive gains, Maya has the ideal vision and values to lead this vital institution.”
Joni Madison, interim president, Human Rights Campaign
“The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights could not have found a better leader than Maya Wiley. She brings a wealth of experience fighting for civil rights and a deep passion for racial justice. I look forward to continue to work closely with The Leadership Conference in the fight for full equality and liberation for our community, in all of its intersections, under her exemplary leadership.”
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF
“With her broad and impressive experiences and accomplishments, Maya Wiley is as well-prepared as anyone could be to take on the challenge of leading the nation’s largest civil rights coalition. She has a keen appreciation and understanding of our nation’s rapidly-changing demographics and of the evolving dynamics of politics and policymaking in Washington, D.C.; I know that she will prove to be the strong and sophisticated coalition leader we need in the next phase of civil rights development in the United States.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
“I’ve known Maya Wiley for 30 years since she and I were young attorneys at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Since then, she has never wavered in her deep commitment to advancing civil and human rights, and she has broadened her experience in fields of work that have uniquely prepared her to lead The Leadership Conference at this critical moment. Her vision, determination, commitment to consensus building, and deep political insight will serve her well as she steps in to lead this critical coalition. Simply put, Maya is a superb choice to lead The Leadership Conference.”
Reverend Al Sharpton, president and founder, National Action Network
“The decision by the board of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to select Maya Wiley to lead the organization is a union befitting of her lineage as the daughter of Dr. George Wiley, a champion for poor people. I knew Dr. George Wiley as a fighter for economic rights and it is Maya’s own background as a civil rights lawyer that make her a leader for the future and an influential leader in the fight for civil and human rights. Maya is a fighter with foundational excellence and no one is better qualified to convene and work with civil rights organizations with diverse backgrounds than Maya Wiley.”
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO, National Women’s Law Center
“Maya Wiley is an extraordinary choice to lead The Leadership Conference in this next phase. She has the vision, skills, and experience to meet the unprecedented crisis in our civil rights and democracy. And she importantly knows that the challenges of today are interconnected and require leveraging the full strength of our broad coalition. I can’t wait to work with her in this new role.”
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
“This is just the right moment for a unique leader like Maya Wiley to take the helm of the nation’s most important multi-racial and interfaith civil and human rights coalition. In addition to her extensive experience as an activist, advocate. and public intellectual, Maya has personal experience in the Black, Jewish, and other minority communities who experience bigotry directly. With democracy itself under attack, we need Maya’s clear moral voice and vision to guide us forward.”
Maya Wiley Bio
Maya Wiley is a nationally respected civil rights attorney and activist who has dedicated her life to the fights for justice, equality, and fairness.
Wiley’s father was a leader in the civil rights and economic justice movements and she has been a leader inside and outside government. Serving as the first Black woman counsel to the Mayor of New York City, she helped deliver on civil and immigrant rights. During her tenure, the city also saw an expansion of minority/women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) contracts. Following her time at City Hall, Wiley moved to academia as a faculty member and senior vice president for social justice at the New School University. While there, she chaired the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). As chair, she led the release of the “hold” on proceedings against Daniel Pantaleo whose illegal chokehold killed Eric Garner. That move led to the CCRB’s successful administrative prosecution of Pantaleo that resulted in his firing. Wiley’s tenure at the CCRB was marked by increased case closure rates, increased transparency, and an intense focus on public outreach so that potential victims of police abuse were aware of ways to seek the board’s assistance. In 2021, Wiley was a candidate for New York City Mayor.
As a Henry Cohen professor of public & urban policy at the New School, Wiley founded the Digital Equity Laboratory on universal and inclusive broadband. She also served as a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Early in her career, Wiley worked at the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. where focused on multiple racial justice issues. She also worked in the Civil Division of the U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Following the September 11th attacks, Wiley co-founded the nonprofit Center for Social Inclusion, an organization that focused on transforming structural racism into fair opportunity at the intersection of race and poverty as it relates to education, the digital divide, land use planning, the green economy and more. Wiley was also a senior advisor on race and poverty at the Open Society Foundations.
Wiley earned her B.A. from Dartmouth College and her J.D. from Columbia Law School. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner, Harlan, and their two daughters and cats.