Diversity Month Program: Standish Willis on Race and Mass Incarceration in Chicago
Criminal defense attorney Standish E. Willis is quick to make enemies in his work, but only because he insists on doing the right thing. Born in Chicago on August 16, 1941, the ex-gang member-turned-lawyer simply followed his conscience in choosing to take on unpopular clients whose civil rights are violated.
Willis grew up on the West Side, a blue-collar neighborhood and haven for gangs. When he was twelve, Willis joined the Van Dyke street gang and two years later was the leader of the Gents street gang. He became a father at age seventeen. Six months after graduating from Crane High School in 1960, Willis shipped off to the U.S. Air Force and shaped up. When he returned four years later, he took a job as a bus driver and began attending Crane College. As a student, Willis grew politically active, leading the campaign to name the new West Side campus Malcolm X College and organizing clubs and a "Communi-versity" to promote African and Africa