Ferrell Littlejohn ’24 and Afrika Owes ’24 Named This Year’s Recipients of the Hon. Deborah A. Batts Scholarship


Ferrell Littlejohn ’24 and Afrika Owes ’24 have been named this year’s recipients of the Hon. Deborah A. Batts Scholarship.

Judge Batts, the first Black faculty member to receive tenure at Fordham Law and a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, broke barriers by becoming the first openly LGBTQ judge to sit on the federal bench in 1994. She passed away on February 3, 2020. The Deborah A. Batts Scholarship Fund, launched at Fordham Law in her memory in 2021, provides support for students dedicated to using their legal education to promote social justice, civil rights, and equality. The scholarship recipients work with Fordham Law’s Center on Race, Law and Justice on original research and analysis.

Hon. Deborah A. Batts (Photo from FLASH/The Fordham Law Maloney Library archive)

“I appeared in front of Judge Batts numerous times when I was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and, after a while, I came to think of her as a mentor. She even invited me to Fordham Law to meet with some of her students,” said Professor Bennett Capers, faculty director of Fordham Law’s Center on Race, Law and Justice. “I’m sure she would be honored to know that we created a social justice scholarship in her honor, and that Ferrell and Afrika are this year’s recipients. Already, it feels like a privilege that I get to work with them. They’re both amazing.”

Littlejohn and Owes say they’re both feeling inspired to blaze their own trails at Fordham Law. 

“It’s a privilege to be named [as a Batts Scholar]in honor of someone who had achieved so much and was a groundbreaker in her own way,” said Ferrell Littlejohn ’24. “Before I came to Fordham Law, I didn’t really know how I wanted to make a difference or impact in my community. But this was a surprise and seemed almost like a sign for me. I’m interested in tackling issues related to community and economic development and criminal law reform.”

“Judge Batts was unafraid to be herself. To have been so radical in a very conservative legal space is inspiring to me,” said Afrika Owes ’24. “In law school, you might feel you have to shrink to fit in, but you don’t have to. Knowing I can show up as my full self, while also contributing to the Fordham community and greater legal scholarship in this role, is exciting.”

Meet the New Batts Scholars

Before joining the Fordham Law community, Owes worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights from 2018 to 2021, served as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa from 2016 to 2017, and participated in advocacy work while studying at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Her research interests include those that intersect with race, technology, and law, in addition to economic justice initiatives for formerly incarcerated Black women. Owes is also the inaugural recipient of Fordham Law’s Bella and Irving Dubner Memorial Goldman Sachs Scholarship, which launched during the fall 2021 semester and in support of Goldman Sachs’ One Million Black Women initiative.

“I’m proud and beyond happy for Afrika, and this honor furthers my confidence that she’s going to do great things and make a difference in this world,” said David P. Dubner ’02, a partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs, who created the Dubner Goldman Sachs Scholarship Fund.

Littlejohn already had a service-oriented mindset prior to attending Fordham Law. In her previous role as a finance officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, she was responsible for overseeing the technical and financial proficiencies of individual Marines, as well as cultivating their growth, both professional and personal. The experience taught Littlejohn firsthand how much the law had an impact on financial operations, and how it could be used as a tool to help others and solve problems. “I believe I have the leadership capabilities to make a difference at Fordham Law, and I’m most looking forward to building connections with my fellow students,” Littlejohn said.

New and Current Batts Scholars Will Collaborate

As Batts Scholars, Littlejohn and Owes will not only work closely with the Center on Race, Law, and Justice’s directors, but with last year’s inaugural scholars, Cameron Porter ’23 and Lamar Smith ’23 as well.

Cameron Porter ’23 and Lamar Smith ’23

“Being selected as a Batts Scholar has added an additional layer of enrichment to what has been a transformative law school experience,” said Smith, who has been working as a research assistant for the Center over the last year.

“I am so lucky to have been connected to the Center on Race, Law and Justice,” Porter said. “I think the highlight of the scholarship is that I have met so many great people and made meaningful connections—especially with those who attend the Center’s events.”

“Since the Center is still on the rise, I anticipate that the upcoming semester will be even more eventful with the addition of the two new scholars as well as the new executive director, Zenande Booi,” she added. “I can’t wait to see what we accomplish in the near future and look forward to working with Ferrell and Afrika.”

To learn more about the late Judge Batts, watch this video about her life and legacy.


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