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The unnamed moments in life that shape us are like floods — quick, overflowing, encompassing, and terrifying. Ripping people from homes, scrubbing their memories from sidewalks, and leaving many more questions than answers and the potential for a new beginning.

A flood begins the story Nicole Austin-Hillery’s ascent to President and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. As a small child in Harrisburg, PA, Austin-Hillery’s perspective of the world was washed aside when her home was flooded during a hurricane.

Displaced, both in body and mind, upon Austin-Hillery’s return to her home in one of the city’s public housing complexes, she wondered why her community did not resemble its former self.

“I remember feeling like, ‘They’re not planting trees anymore. It doesn’t look as nice as it did before the flood’.”

Though she could not name why the shift in care and attention to her community had changed, she knew, “We were not quite as good, or less deserving of a community that was nice.”

That realization lit a flame that continues to burn brightly for over 20 years in civil and international human rights, voting rights, and criminal justice reform. Dedicated, diligent, and determined, Austin-Hillery has forged a stellar legal career that centers on standing up for the everywoman and everyman with a laser-like focus on equity and opportunity.

Austin Hillery comes to the CBCF from Human Rights Watch where she held the inaugural post of executive director for U.S. Programs. She championed reforms to end violations in the abusive US immigration system, tackled race discrimination, and promoted the organization’s health issues, including the high cervical cancer rates among Black women in Alabama as the executive director of the US Program.

Before her appointment, she was the first Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice, Washington, D.C. office, where she oversaw the growth and development of the organization’s advocacy and policy work.

At CBCF, Austin-Hillery will use her expertise and leadership to carry out the Foundation’s mission and strengthen programs, services, and community engagement and operations in a virtual space.

“Our goal at CBCF is to advance the global Black community through opportunities to develop leaders, inform policy, and educate the public,” Austin-Hillery said.

A graduate of Howard University School of Law and Carnegie Mellon University, Austin-Hillery began her career as a civil rights attorney with Mehri & Skalet, PLLC as part of the firm’s civil rights employment class action practice.

Now, sitting atop one of the premiere educational foundations studying issues affecting Black Americans, she can look back at that young working-class girl in Harrisburg and say, “I did it.”

And did it, she did. But the story is just beginning.

Read the full release on Nicole Austin-Hillery’s CBCF appointment here.