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Nicole C. Lee, JD '02 and B.A. '00, of Washington DC, George W. Thorn Award

By Barbara A. Byers

Release Date: March 3, 2009

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Nicole Lee

In 2006 at age 30, Nicole Lee became executive director of TransAfrica Forum and the first female to head the Washington DC-based international organization that promotes human rights and social justice for people of African descent. TransAfrica was the lead organization in the "Free South Africa Movement," which has been credited with helping to end apartheid in South Africa.

Lee oversees the organization's human rights and advocacy work relating to Africa and other world locations where Afro-descendants reside, including Europe, the Caribbean and South America.

Since her appointment, TransAfrica has focused on constituent education and advocating against "vulture funds," a process that involves multinational conglomerate corporations moving into third world countries where labor is cheap, tax breaks are high, currency is unstable and open to manipulation, and where assets such as factories, banks and businesses are available for pennies on the dollar.

Presumably done under the guise of debt relief, in actuality the conglomerates buy African and Latin American debt from the lending country for a reduced amount, and then press the struggling nations into courts as they demand payment of the full loan and interest several times the original value of the debt, rendering any debt relief meaningless.

Lee travels frequently to not only the African continent, but also to countries with large Afro-descendant populations such as Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti and Columbia. She spends her time interacting with people and then conveys their concerns about human and political rights issues to U.S. politicians, policy makers and other agencies whose work impacts the global African population.

The plight of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic, the contentious relationship with opposition leaders by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, the dangers of further militarization in Africa and the unintentional negative effects of the U.S. government's war on drugs have all been recent key issues on the TransAfrica Forum's radar.

As an intern in South Africa, Lee worked on an environmental class-action suit while a UB International Law Fellow. A year later and just two weeks removed from earning her law degree, she joined Haiti's Bureau des Avocati Internationaux, where she investigated and prosecuted human rights violations committed during the Haitian coup in 1994.

She returned to the U.S. in 2004 to work as a human rights lobbyist in Washington, and then became the managing director of the HIV/IDS advocacy group Global Justice. In 2005, she joined TransAfrica Forum as director of operations and senior policy researcher.

Named one of the top 150 most influential African Americans by Ebony Magazine, Lee received the UB Law Students of Color Distinguished Alumni Award.