Meet Justice Joy V. Cunningham: A 2024 Women of Excellence Honoree

Judge Joy Virginia Cunningham is a trailblazer, breaking barriers as the first African-American woman from Cook County to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court.

Justice Cunningham will be recognized at the 17th Annual Chicago Defender Women of Excellence Awards and Ceremony as one of 50 honorees.

“The Chicago Defender is a part of history. It is not only part of African-American history, but I would venture to say that it is part of American history because of the stature of the publication,” she said. To be named a Women of Excellence honoree of such an important publication means a lot to me. It’s a great honor, and it’s humbling.”

In an exclusive interview, Justice Cunningham, who recently secured a full 10-year term on the state’s Supreme Court, shared her thoughts on this prestigious recognition and reflected on her impactful career.

A distinguished educational and professional background marks Cunningham’s journey to the state’s highest court. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from the City University of New York and her law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Before her judicial career, she held key positions, including Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary for the Northwestern Memorial System. She also served as a judge at the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Throughout her legal career, Cunningham has been actively involved in professional and civic organizations, such as the Chicago Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. She has been recognized for her exemplary service to community and civic organizations, showcasing her commitment to making a positive impact beyond the courtroom.

Her impact within the legal community and throughout Illinois exemplifies what a Women of Excellence honoree is about.

In fact, Justice Cunningham recounted the moment she first learned about her nomination, describing it as a source of immense pride and honor, especially considering the Chicago Defender’s iconic status within the community.

“I was sitting in my chambers here at the Supreme Court, and I got the letter,” she recalled. “I get many letters about many things. But as I read through it, this one was more than the usual letter.”

“It is absolutely something that brightens a person’s day, and that’s what it did for me,” she said.
Looking toward the future, Justice Cunningham spoke optimistically about the ongoing progress and inclusivity in the legal field.

“I am very proud to be the first African American woman from Cook County on the Illinois Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important for me to continue to open doors,” she said.

Justice Cunningham underscored the significance of honoring the contributions of women of color, especially during this time of the year.

“I’m very grateful. I’m very thankful,” she said of being recognized as a Women of Excellence honoree. “With this being Women’s History Month, I think it’s very fitting that women of color are being honored because we are great contributors to the American diaspora.”

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