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Charisse Lillie

April 17, 2009

Respect for the law has always been the driving principle behind everything Charisse Lillie has achieved as an attorney, educator and entrepreneur. She was born to a family of educators in a home where conversations about culture, music and equality were the norm. So it's no surprise that Lillie, who helped integrate her Catholic schools in Houston in the nineteen Sixties, sees the law as a powerful tool for social change at all levels: from workplace equity to election reform. Lillie is now an executive at Comcast and a VP for its philanthropic foundation.



I believe in picking my battles wisely
I remember my dear Auntie Martha saying that, when she and my mother were discussing the issues of the day - politics, art, theater, community service or projects being designed for their beloved Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.


As a young girl, I listened and I observed the village of extraordinary high school teachers, artists and college professors that my parents organized as mentors and role models around my sister and me. I formed several core beliefs that have informed my life and work. I'm thinking about finding time for family and making the time to mentor others.


I believe that you should always have a plan. Mine was to become the best civil rights lawyer possible and to find ways to use the law as a tool for change. I was part of that generation of students to integrate Houston's Catholic schools in the 1960's, so I knew first hand how attorneys where instrumental in dismantling the laws of segregation in texas. Today I'm as passionate about diversity, equality and creating opportunities for people of all background as I was then.


During much of my career, I was determined to follow the paths of my earlier mentors in the law, the Honorable Clifford Scott Green and the Honorable A Leon Higginbotham, Jr. I was hoping to advance in the governmental legal sector expecting that it would ultimately lead to a seat on the federal bench, but my path veered towards the private sector, where I worked as a litigation practice for 13 years. And it was an experience that was more exciting, challenging and fulfilling that I could ever had imagined.


Having an overall plan kept me on course, kept me focused and kept me motivated.
I also believe in the power of the hand written note. Yes, you heard it right.
I have tried to be grateful for and to all the mentors who have opened doors and supported me on this journey.
I have tried to remember to say thank you, in person and in writing.


From my parents, I learned the power of the arts to teach, to heal and to move the culture and politics of a nation. My father was an educator and a jazz saxophonist. He practiced his tenor saxophone every day, even on occasion, when he was in the hospital suffering from the ravages of cancer. His music was the soundtrack of our household.


My parents had very high expectations for my sister and me. We were never really congratulated for A's in our report cards. We had to explain the B's. For those expectations, I'm very grateful. My parents and grandparents were good talkers and good listeners.
I'm still trying to perfect the art of listening.
I believe it's a skill that's a prerequisite to true learning and quality mentoring.