The Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) is proud to announce Vanessa Weathersby as the newest Alumni Class Representative. She will serve as the Intern Representative for the 1986-1990 Class, succeeding Charles Wintersteen in the role. This special group serves as ambassadors for PILI’s mission and work personally to connect with their Intern and Fellow classmates to strengthen the community of 4,000 PILI Alumni. One former Intern and one former Fellow represent five-year groups of PILI Intern & Fellow Alumni.
Weathersby retired as a Senior Operational Risk Manager at BMO in 2019. She was a 1988 PILI Intern at the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities in Chicago.
Can you tell me about your PILI Internship?
The Leadership Council was a prestigious fair housing organization that worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights Movement leaders to defend tenants’ rights under the Fair Housing Act in Chicago. “The experience itself was very profound and moving,” Vanessa said. As an Intern, Vanessa engaged with clients in communities throughout the city to record instances of systemic discrimination in housing and informed individuals of their rights to empower decision-making.
“My favorite thing about being a PILI Intern was working with brilliant, like-minded individuals who had a similar passion about service to others, supporting others, fighting the good fight, challenging the status quo, and the courage to do so,” Vanessa recalled. “It was such a rich period in my career, and in my development as a person.”
Vanessa was a 1990 graduate of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Michigan State University.
What have you been up to since your Internship concluded?
Vanessa is a courageous leader, with a track record for empowering others. When asked what she is most passionate about, Vanessa said, “Educating people, supporting people in using their voice, and shepherding them through the process. I really do believe in educating people, so they can stand on their own, and that I am there to be a support.”
After finishing her PILI Internship, Vanessa went on to complete an internship with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C., and thereafter completed a clerkship for the Honorable James R. Spencer (retired) of the federal district court for the Eastern District of Virginia. She returned to Chicago at the end of her clerkship and practiced, primarily in personal injury defense, at the firm now known as Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.
Since retiring, Vanessa is very involved in her church, her sorority Delta Sigma Theta, and The Links organization. Most recently, Vanessa was appointed by the Fourth Ward Alderman to the newly created role of Chair, Community Safety Committee of the Grand Boulevard Advisory Council.
Vanessa is also looking forward to getting involved with PILI again and reconnecting with fellow Alumni. “I feel like, since I retired two years ago, now is a good time to get back to what I feel very passionately about,” she said.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
“I am most proud of my willingness to challenge inequitable practices, even at great risk to myself. Everybody doesn’t always want to have practices challenged, for whatever reason, so being willing to do that, sometimes even when I have been afraid to do it, I am proud of that.” Vanessa went on to say, “When I see the other people find their voices, and the sense of empowerment that it gives them, I am very proud to be a part of that kind of transformation.”
What are you looking forward to as the new class rep for the ‘86 to ‘90 class?
As the Class Representative, Vanessa emphasized that she anticipates the opportunity to reengage with PILI and its mission, while simultaneously developing new professional skill sets. “Personally, that runs parallel to me reconnecting, reengaging and, again, working with brilliant, like-minded people. Also, I look forward to finding out what people are up to these days, especially for the class of ‘86 – ’90.” Vanessa added.
Finally, Vanessa emphasized the importance of working with organizations that address societal inequity, such as PILI.
“We are in this time of great division in our country and there is a need for people to step up, stand against the constant noise in the background, and to say, who do we want to be as a country? Does that include being my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper? I think the answer is yes,” Vanessa went on to say, “ I believe that is what PILI has done very well and will keep moving forward. I am my sister’s keeper and my brother’s keeper, and PILI is an opportunity or another avenue for me to act in that role.”
Vanessa commented on the impact PILI has had on her life, as an attorney and a person. “I don’t even remember how I learned about PILI, during my first year in law school. I really don’t remember. But I do know that it has impacted my life greatly. It’s funny how something like that can inform and influence me since 1988. For me, this is a lifelong organization.” Vanessa concluded.
Learn more about PILI’s Alumni Network on our website.