A Conversation with Judge Wilhelmina Wright

By Sheila Niaz

An intimate group of 25 attendees gathered for “Empowering Her Justice: A Conversation with the Honorable Wilhelmina Wright” September 19 in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

The unique hour-long fireside chat about empowerment and justice was held between U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright and her law clerk, Twin Cities Chapter Leader Sheila Niaz, in Judge Wright’s own Federal courtroom.

Judge Wright’s welcoming remarks blended her personal and professional journey. She traced her roots from humble beginnings in Norfolk, Virginia, to her role as a U.S. District Judge. Throughout her conversation, she candidly shared her experiences and the different judgeships that influenced her career. Her narrative carried a profound resonance as she openly discussed the distinct challenges she encountered as a Black woman, even after achieving admissions to Harvard Law School and Yale University.

At the core of Judge Wright’s message is her deep commitment to justice, which served as the central theme of the evening. She expressed how this passion had led her to pursue a career in law, driven by a sincere desire to make a meaningful impact. Judge Wright’s diverse roles in the legal field, including her work as a law clerk at the 6th Circuit for Judge Damon Keith, her time as an associate at a law firm, and her roles as an Assistant United States Attorney, as well as her journey through state district, court of appeals, supreme court judgeships, culminating in her position as a U.S. District Judge, offered valuable insights into the intricate world of law.

During the conversation, Judge Wright also discussed the positive impact lawyers can have, not only within their legal circles but also in society at large. She is a strong advocate for mentoring and promoting an inclusive environment to inspire upcoming judges and legal professionals.

To give a fuller picture of her life, Judge Wright mentioned her love for equestrian sports, the comfort she finds with her horse, and the meaningful role of being a mother to her daughter. These personal details provided insights into various aspects of her life.

The event concluded with Judge Wright sharing a thoughtful book recommendation: “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison. She highlighted the lasting significance of this masterpiece in sparking discussions about justice and empathy.

Following the conversation, attendees transitioned into a networking event hosted in Judge Wright’s courtroom. This provided a unique opportunity for attendees to mingle with like-minded individuals and engage further with Judge Wright.

“Empowering Her Justice” was a celebration of Judge Wilhelmina Wright’s remarkable life and accomplishments. Her personal journey, her continued and steadfast dedication to justice and diversity, and the valuable wisdom she shared deeply resonated with everyone in attendance. The event showcased the significant impact one person can have on the legal profession and society at large.

Sheila Niaz serves as a leader of ChIPs Twin Cities. She is a judicial law clerk for Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright at the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Before joining the Court, Sheila worked as a patent attorney at a big law firm in Minneapolis, specializing in intellectual property law.