At the ninth annual Alumnae Brunch on Nov. 2, the St. Thomas School of Law honored Summra Mohammadee Shariff ’07 as the 2019 Law Alumna Achievement Award recipient. Shariff is the executive director and president of Twin Cities Diversity in Practice (TCDIP), a professional association that works to strengthen the efforts of law firms and in-house legal departments in the Twin Cities to recruit, advance and retain attorneys of color and create a vibrant and inclusive legal community.
“Anyone who has spent 10 minutes with Summra has been touched by her magic,” Anna Petosky ’07 said at the brunch in her introduction of her former classmate and friend. “She is at once thoughtful, intelligent and serious. And in any conversation, she can be counted on to lend an important, practical and often unique perspective. At the same time, nearly any encounter with Summra will be punctuated by her infectious laughter, and her disarming sense of humor.”
“But we are not here today just because Summra is a delightful human,” Petosky continued. “We are here to celebrate a distinguished alumna who has consistently lived her values, in particular, of service and of a commitment to increasing and promoting diversity in the [legal] profession and in the Twin Cities business community.”
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Shariff earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California. As a student, she worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on AIDS education and prevention initiatives among high-risk populations.
After college, Shariff spent three years at the AIDS Project in Los Angeles, one of the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS service organizations in the country. She also co-created a writing and art program for young teenage mothers to use their creativity to gain self-awareness and self-confidence.
Shariff moved to Minnesota in 2004 for law school, bringing with her dedication to service and natural talents as a leader. At St. Thomas Law, she started a chapter of Amnesty International, volunteered with the Minnesota Justice Foundation and was active in the Black Law Student and Asian Pacific American Law Student associations.
By the time she graduated, Shariff was known for her activism, positive attitude and ability to make things happen, but she says she considered transferring after her first year of law school.
“When I started law school, I thought for sure I had made a horrible mistake,” Shariff shared about her experience leaving her family, friends and career in California. “I thought, maybe Minnesota isn't the place for me. And then my stubbornness kicked in and I said, ‘OK, I'm going to stay here and I’m going to make friends,’ … and little by little, once I started to look up and look around, I found community here. And that is what has kept me here.”
“Over three years of wandering these hallways late at night or early in the morning, people here really did open up their hearts, minds and homes to me,” she continued. “I found others who were like-minded, who believe in the [social justice] mission of the school. I came to the school because I believe in the mission and I was looking for like-minded people. And what I found instead was that there are people who may not agree with me 100% but there are people who, at the heart of the matter, believe in doing good for each other.”
After earning her J.D., Shariff worked as an attorney for Central Minnesota Legal Services and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. In 2013, she joined Robins Kaplan LLP as the diversity and inclusion coordinator and then pro bono coordinator before moving to TCDIP in the spring of 2018.
“Over and over again, Summra amazes me with her unique style of leadership, which is never self-promoting,” another of Shariff’s former classmates and friends Erin Bryan ’08 said at the alumnae brunch. “Summra’s leadership is characterized by recognizing opportunities for action and empowering others to push through their own self-imposed limits in order to reach common goals. I am grateful to call her my friend. She makes me proud to be a University of St. Thomas alumna.”
The St. Thomas Law Alumna Achievement Award is given out annually by the Law Women’s Networking Committee to a female law graduate whose achievements exemplify the ideals of leadership, professionalism, hard work, commitment to excellence and respect for others.
Past recipients of the alumna achievement award include:
- 2011 – Leah Montgomery ’06, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services
- 2012 – Kathy Klos ‘07, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
- 2013 – Diana Hamilton ’06, presented posthumously
- 2014 – Major Colonel Johanna P. Clyborne ’05, Brekke, Clyborne & Ribich
- 2015 – Janet Krueger ’06, Minnesota Public Defender
- 2016 – Julie Offenhauser ’04, Gray Plant Mooty
- 2017 – Sarah Brenes ’08, The Advocates for Human Rights
- 2018 – Marie O’Leary ’06, Office of Public Counsel for the Defence, International Criminal Court