New York City’s newly elected Public Advocate Letitia James, a 1982 graduate of Lehman College, will deliver the commencement address on May 29, 2014.
James is the first African-American woman to be elected to citywide office. She succeeded Mayor Bill De Blasio in the Office of Public Advocate.
James, a native of Brooklyn, graduated from Lehman with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and later earned a law degree from Howard University in Washington, DC.
“I knew education was the key to overcome poverty,” said James in a conversation with Lehman Today. “My family was of humble means. I recognized that in order for me to make ends meet, and to improve the condition of my family, I would have to graduate from college.”
James went on to serve as Counsel and Chief of Staff to several members of the New York State Assembly and as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society. She was later appointed the first Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Brooklyn Regional Office during the administration of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
In 2003, James was elected to the New York City Council on the Working Families Party’s ballot line – the first member of the party elected to office in New York State. For ten years, she represented Brooklyn’s 35th District, serving as chair of the Economic Development and Sanitation Committees, and on the committees for Parks and Recreation, Small Business, Technology in Government, Veteran Affairs, and Women’s Issues.
A graduate of New York City public schools, James’ campaign for public advocate focused on the concerns of public school parents and affordable housing issues.
“To some extent, I’ve been advocating all of my career,” James said in an interview with City & State. “I’ve been an advocate on a wide range of issues, speaking on behalf of those who have historically been ignored or those feeling squeezed out of the City of New York.”
James is also founder of the Urban Network, a coalition of minority professional organizations that raises money and distributes college scholarships to inner city youth.