Nkech i Taifa

BIO

Nkechi Taifa

Preferred pronunciation: (Neh KEE Chee   Tah EE fah)

Nkechi Taifa is founder, principal and CEO of The Taifa Group LLC, a social enterprise firm whose mission is to advance justice. The Taifa Group’s portfolio of client services has included coalition-building, convenings, government relations, meeting and retreat facilitation, strategic planning, and trainings. She is founder and convener emeritus of the Justice Roundtable - a broad network of advocacy groups advancing progressive justice system reform and serves as a Senior Fellow for the Center for Justice at Columbia University.  Nkechi serves on the governing board of the Corrections Information Council, an independent monitoring body that provides oversight over the conditions of District residents imprisoned throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the D.C. Department of Corrections. She is a founding member of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), and an inaugural commissioner of the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC). 

Nkechi served as the Advocacy Director for Criminal Justice for the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Policy Center from 2002-2018, focusing on issues of sentencing reform, law enforcement reform, reentry, prison reform, executive clemency, and racial justice. She also founded the Justice Roundtable coalition while at the Open Society. As the Roundtable convener for 19 years, Taifa was in the leadership of the coalition responsible for passage of both the Second Chance Act reentry legislation (2008) and the Fair Sentencing Act crack disparity legislation (2010). She helped to fuel the mobilization of the Obama administration’s clemency initiative, which resulted in the early release from unjust imprisonment of over 1,700 people and successfully advocated for the inclusion of sentencing provisions within the 2018 First Step Act.  


Nkechi was founding director of the award-winning Equal Justice Program at Howard University School of Law from 1996-2002, where she also directed the Law School’s Externship Program and taught seminars on “Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System,” Public Interest Law,” and the “Law of Corrections and Prisoners’ Rights.” She taught as an adjunct professor at American University Washington College of Law as well as Howard Law until 2006 and taught high school students criminal law as part of the National Bar Association’s Crump Law Camp from 2001-2019.  


Taifa served as legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991-1996 where she was the principal spokesperson on criminal justice and civil rights issues; policy counsel for the Women’s Legal Defense Fund from 1989-1991; staff attorney for the National Prison Project from 1984-1987; Office Manager and Network Organizer for the Washington Office on Africa from 1980-1983; elementary school teacher at NationHouse Watoto School from 1977-1980, and as founder and director of a Saturday School for youth during the 1970s. She also maintained a general criminal and civil law practice in the District of Columbia between 1987-1991, representing indigent adult and juvenile clients, and specializing in employment discrimination law.


Nkechi Taifa served as co-chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) Steering Committee on D.C. Statehood (1993-95) which resulted in a historic first vote in Congress; and on the Leadership Conference’s Task Force on Voting Rights (1991- 93) which resulted in passage of the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter bill). She helped to mobilize the successful campaign against implementation of the death penalty in the District of Columbia in the early 90’s and served as coordinator and trainer for the 1995 Million Man March Legal Observer Committee. Taifa served as chief prosecutor for the 2021 International Tribunal on Human Rights Abuses; and as the prosecutor delivering the Opening Statement for both the 2007 International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the 1997 International Tribunal for Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal. 


Nkechi Taifa has testified before the U.S. Congress, the United States Sentencing Commission, the Council of the District of Columbia, the American Bar Association Justice Kennedy Commission, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and the California State Task Force on Reparations. She served as an appointed Commissioner and Chair of the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights from 2007-2014. On April 4, 2022, she delivered a poignantly moving TEDx talk, “Reparations: An Issue Whose Time Has Come.” 


Attorney Taifa has had six law review articles published, “Let’s Talk About Reparations” (Columbia Journal of Race and Law (Spring 2019); “Integrative Solutions to Interrelated Issues: A Multidisciplinary Look Behind the Cycle of Incarceration” (Harvard Law and Policy Review, Summer 2009 – co-authored with Catherine Beane); “Codification or Castration – the Applicability of the International Race Convention to the U.S. Criminal Justice System” (Howard Law Journal 1997); “Cracked Justice: A Critical Examination of Cocaine Sentencing” (Univ. of West Los Angeles Law Review, 1996); “Three Strikes and You’re Out – Mandatory Life Imprisonment for Third Time Felons” (University of Dayton Law Review, 1995); and “Civil Forfeiture vs. Civil Liberties” (New York Law School Law Review, 1994). 


She was the Project Chair for the publication, Tulia: Tip of the Drug War Iceberg, and author of the chapter, “Social Policy Implications of Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System,” published in The Color of Social Policy. She is also the author of ground-breaking White Papers and Issue Briefs, such as “Race, Mass Incarceration, and the Disastrous War on Drugs” (Brennan Center for Justice May 2021); “Clemency: An Inside Story from a Progressive Advocate” (Federal Sentencing Reporter June 2017); “Racism in the Criminal Justice System: Institutionalized Genocide” (American Constitution Society 2016); “A Bittersweet Moment in History: Passage of the Fair Sentencing Act (NACDL Champion Magazine 2010); “Roadblocked Reentry: the Prison After Imprisonment” (National Bar Association Magazine 2006); and “Reflections from the Frontlines: An Insider’s Perspective on the Crack Cocaine Controversy” (Federal Sentencing Reporter 1998).  


Nkechi Taifa served as the principal author of the Advancement Project’s report, “Re-Enfranchisement! A Guide for Individual Restoration of Voting Rights in States that Permanently Disenfranchise Former Felons” (2002). She was a contributing author to Black Reparations: American Slavery and its Vestiges; and Reparations Yes: The Legal and Political Reasons Why Blacks Should be Paid for the Enslavement of Our Ancestors; and Decolonization U.S.A. 


Nkechi served on the Legal Advisory Team of the Legacy of the GU272 Alliance (descendants of the 1838 Jesuit sale of 272 enslaved persons which ensured the survival of Georgetown University); and is a past president of the DC Chapter of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and former co-chair of the Legislative Commission of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. 


Reported civil and criminal legal cases with Taifa as counsel include Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Companies, 864 F. Supp. 486 (D.C. Cir. 1994); 62 F.3d 1469 (D.C. Cir. 1995); U.S. v. Whitehorn, 710 F. Supp. 803 (1989); U.S. v. Marilyn Buck and Mutulu Shakur, 690 F. Supp. 1291 (SDNY) 1988; and Knop v. Johnson, 655 F. Supp. 871 (WD Mich 1987). 


Nkechi has served on the boards of numerous organizations, and has received numerous awards and honors, including the “Champion of Justice Award” from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (2021); “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the 17th Annual A Love Supreme Trane Tribute (2021); “Distinguished 400 Award” from the 400 Years of African American History Commission (2021); “Black Resistance Matters Award,” from the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee (2017); “Equal Justice Award” from the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law (2017); Dad’s Award from Hope House (2016); “Wiley Branton Award” from the National Bar Association (2016); “Legacy Award” from the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (2016); the “Marcus Garvey Award” from the Universal Negro Improvement Association (2015); the “Cornelius Neil Alexander Humanitarian Award” from the D.C. Commission on Human Rights (2015); the “Wiley Branton Award” from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (2014); the “Umoja Award,” from the National Black United Front (2014); “Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Advocacy” from Congresswoman Maxine Waters (2011); the “President’s Award” from the Washington Council of Lawyers (2005); the Rosmarian Award for Excellence in Teaching and Service (2000); Professor of the Year (1999); Outstanding Social Engineer Award (1996); and Distinguished Faculty Author Award -- – all from Howard University School of Law; Certificado De Participation, Universidad de la Habana, Sociedad y Derecho en Cuba; the “Pro Bono Publico Award” from the American Bar Association for outstanding leadership of Howard Law’s Equal Justice Program (1996); and the “Appreciation Award” from the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (1996). 


Taifa was honored as one of Essence Magazine’s 100 Woke Black Women Advocating for Change (2019); celebrated as one of Essence Magazine’s Unsung Black Women Making Strides in the Law (2018); and was showcased in a feature article in People’s Magazine (2020).  She has served as consultant to various organizations and projects and is interviewed and quoted extensively in the national and local electronic and print media.


Nkechi is the author of the best-seller memoir, Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice, which tells the story of the rebellious journey of a girl coming of age during the Black Power era and the social justice lawyer she becomes.  A multi-talented individual, Nkechi is also the published author of three books for children, Shining Legacy (1983) which highlights twelve Black heroes and heroines through moving stories accentuated with rhyme; Three Tales of Wisdom (1983), and The Adventures of Kojo and Ama (1992) which contains seven wisdom-filled stories combining excitement, fun and suspense with lessons in pride and heritage. These classics were re-published in 2021 for a new generation. She performed spoken word with the group “BlackNotes” as part of its 1998 debut CD project, leading her original creation, “While Malcolm Preached, Trane Played.” 


Nkechi is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. A native Washingtonian, she received her Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and graduated magna cum laude from Howard University. She is the proud mother of an adult daughter, Mariama Taifa-Seitu.

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RECOGNITION
& AWARDS

  • Nkechi Taifa was celebrated as one of the unsung Black women making strides in the law, in Essence Magazine. March, 2018.
     

  • Nkechi Taifa was honored as one of Essence Magazine’s 2019 WOKE 100 Black Women Advocating for Change. November, 2019.
     

  • "Equal Justice Award" from UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, 2017
     

  • "Black Resistance Matters" Award from Malcolm X Commemoration Committee 2017
     

  • "Legacy Award" from the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, 2016
     

  • Wiley Branton Award from the National Bar Association, 2016
     

  • "Dad's Award" from Hope House, 2016
     

  • Marcus Garvey Outstanding Community Service Award, Universal Negro Improvement Assn, December 2015
     

  • Cornelius "Neil" Alexander Humanitarian Award from the DC Commission on Human Rights, December 2015
     

  • Wiley Branton Award from Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, June 2014

  • Award from Congresswoman Maxine Waters
    September 2011

     

  • Recognition Award from "Crack the Disparity" Working Group,
    September 2010 

     

  • President's Award Washington Council of Lawyers, December 2005
     

  • African Consciousness Award (Kwanzaa), United Black Community, December 2003

  • Featured in WCL News Forum, official newsletter of Washington Council of Lawyers, August 21, 2001
     

  • Distinguished Faculty Award, from President and Provost of Howard University, April 17, 2001
     

  • Certificade De Participacion, Universidad de la Habana, "Sociedad y Derecho en Cuba", March 23, 2001
     

  • Warren Rosmarian Award for Excellence in Teaching and Service, presented by Howard University School of Law
    May 2000

     

  • "Professor of the Year," presented by Howard Law School Student Bar Association, May 2000
     

  • "Walking the Walk" Award, presented by Black Law Students Association Legislative Watch, May 1999
     

  • Certificate of Appreciation, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, February 1999
     

  • Certificate of Appreciation, ABA Law Students Division, 1998-99
     

  • "Who's Who in American Law", 9th Edition, 1996-97
     

  • "Outstanding Social Engineer Award for Invaluable Assistance and Tireless Dedication of Continuing the Legacy of Howard University School of Law," presented by the H.U. Law Student Bar Association', April 3, 1996
     

  • "Pro Bono Publico Award" for outstanding performance of H.U.'s Public Service Program, presented by Pro Bono Students America at the American Bar Association's Pro Bono Conference, April 13, 1996
     

  • Profiled in Legal Times, "Guide to Key Lobbyists - Criminal Justice Scorecard: An Insider's Guide to the Major Players", August 9, 1993
     

  • "Motor Voter" Coalition Award for Enactment of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, May 25, 1993
     

  • "Hobson, King, Parks, Dougla, Heutte" Award for Legislative Advocacy on Behalf of D.C. Statehood, December 1, 1993
     

  • Profiled in National Journal, "Interest Groups", October 26, 1991

PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS & COMMUNITY SERVICE

Senior Fellow, 2019-present

Columbia University Center for Justice

 

Governing Board Member, 2019-present

Corrections Information Council

 

Board of Advisors, 2009-2011
Institute of the Black World 21st Century

 

Board of Advisors, 2009-2012
Behind the Cycle

 

-Commissioner, 2007-present

-Chairperson, 2012-2015

District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights

 

Member, 1999-present

American Bar Association

 

Member, 1998-present

National Bar Association

 

-Member, 1984-present

-Member, Board of Directors, 1992-98

-Co-Chairperson, Section on Criminal Justice, 1992-98

-President, D.C. Chapter, 1988-91

National Conference of Black Lawyers

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1989-91

National Lawyers Guild

 

-Honorary Board 2013-present

-Member, Board of Directors, 1999-2008

Washington Council of Lawyers

 

Member, 1999-present

Washington Bar Association

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1998-2004

American Civil Liberties Union of National Capital Area

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1999-2001

D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program (FK Public Service Activities Comm)

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1999-2004

Bureau of Rehabilitation, Inc.

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1995-2001

D.C. Prisoners Legal Services, Inc.

 

-Member, Board of Directors, 1993-95

-Section Co-Chair, 1994-95

D.C. Bar Section on Criminal Law & Individual Rights

 

Member, 1989-present

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

 

Member 2003-present

National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice

 

-Chair, Legislative Commission 1995-2005

-Founding Member

National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1992-98

Center for Study and Harassment of African Americans

 

Advisory Board, 2000-2002

American Assoc. of  Law Schools Pro Bono Committee

 

Member, 1995-2002

Community and Alumni Affairs Committee

Howard University School of Law

 

Chair, Board of Trustees, academic year 1999-2000

Roots Public Charter School

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1993-present

African Freedom Fund Treasury

 

Member, Board of Directors, 1980-present

Kwanzaa Children's Party, Inc. Organizing Committee

 

Co-Chair, 1993-95

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 

Steering Committee on D.C. Statehood

 

Member, 1991-93

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Steering Committee on Voting Rights

 

Coordinator and Trainer, 1995

Million Man March Legal Observer Committee

 

General Counsel, 1990-92

African American Writer's Guild

 

General Counsel, 1984-87

Republic of New Africa Ministry of Justice

 

Co-Counsel, 1992-96

Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign