About Us

About Us

Thirty five years ago, a group of African-American attorneys, calling themselves the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys Organizing Committee, gathered to form a professional bar association to address their unique struggles as women of color in the legal profession. The Committee compiled the first known comprehensive listing of African-American female practitioners in the Commonwealth.

In May of 1981 the Committee sponsored a Spring Brunch to introduce the idea of forming the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys. This working meeting was attended by a diverse group of African-American female attorneys, from all areas of practice, in the Commonwealth. The idea engendered overwhelming enthusiasm and support, and discussion ensued concerning the organization’s structure, goals and activities.

Shortly after the Spring Brunch, the Committee formed the Ida B. Wells Barnett Law Society. The Society elected Bernice McIntyre as its first President. The Society later voted to change its name to the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys, an organization dedicated to the memory of Ida B. Wells Barnett.

Since 1981, the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys has sought to preserve and advance justice for all people. Its mission is to assist in ensuring the fair and even-handed administration of justice particularly as applied to women of color. The Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys is similarly concerned with social policy and civil rights issues in the greater minority community.

The organization also seeks to promote legal education by sponsoring educational seminars, lecture series and panel discussions on subjects that affect its members. The Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys serves as a useful resource by aiding African-American women attorneys to become more effective advocates and a direct link to our communities.

Founding Members
Margaret Burnham
Pamoja Burrell
Elaine Denniston
Barbara Dortch-Okara
Beatrice Greene
Ruth-Arlene Howe
Yolanda Mitchell
Bernice McIntyre
Judith Nelson Dilday
Ellen-Marie Ray
Dorothy Sanders
Helaine A. Simmonds
Beverly Towns Williams
Dianne Wilkerson

Past Presidents
1981-1983 Bernice K. McIntyre
1983-1986 Dianne Wilkerson
1986-1987 Kathryn Allen
1987-1989 Pamoja Burrell
1989-1991 Evelynne Swagerty
1991-1993 Dorothy Sanders
1993-1995 Yvette Mendez
1995-1996 Yvette Mendez & Francine Applewhite
1996-1999 Francine Applewhite
1999-2001 Beverly Coles Roby
2001-2002 E. Selena Samm
2002-2004 Marjorie O’Reilly
2004-2007 Belinda Taylor
2007-2013 Keidi S. Carrington
2013-2015 Tiffanie Ellis-Niles


Deborah L Johnson, ESQ.

Deborah L. Johnson is MBWA’s current President.  She has had a distinguished legal and professional career in both the private and public sectors, including corporate America, nonprofit business, government, and higher education.  She is currently the Director of Diversity & Outreach and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law (“RWU Law”) in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Deborah began her legal career as a law clerk to the late Honorable Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California and then spent several years as an associate with Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, P.C. representing clients in various stages of commercial litigation.  She also maintained an active pro bono practice, representing domestic abuse victims in obtaining orders of protection and families in legal guardianship proceedings.  Additionally, Deborah did a six-month rotation as a Special Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County.  After Mintz Levin, Deborah worked for two years with high school youth around community leadership and social justice issues at the Boston Center for Community & Justice before returning to the insurance and legal worlds at Resolute Management, Inc.  At Resolute, she handled complex, high exposure environmental litigation claims, analyzing and interpreting insurance policies and managing declaratory judgment actions and other litigation.  In 2011, Deborah joined the senior administration of RWU Law where she oversees and implements the law school’s diversity initiatives and leads the administration in creating and supporting a diverse and inclusive community within the law school, and in supporting all RWU Law students as they prepare to serve an increasingly diverse population.  More recently, Deborah joined the adjunct faculty and teaches Insurance Law.

Deborah is a longtime Roxbury resident and an active community member in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  She has served on numerous nonprofit boards and committees in addition to MBWA, including the Elizabeth Stone House, the Center for Collaborative Education, the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, and the Women’s Resource Center in Rhode Island.  She is also a member of the Thurgood Marshall Law Society of Rhode Island.

Deborah received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Notre Dame and Juris Doctorate from Northeastern University School of Law.  She is admitted to practice in three states – California, Massachusetts and New York.  Deborah is an avid learner of languages and can communicate in Spanish, American Sign Language and French.


Tinia L. Snow, ESQ.

Tinia Snow is a trial attorney within the Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, where she represents indigent juvenile defendants in various delinquency and youthful offender matters. She received her J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law in 2009 and graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern University with a B.S. in criminal justice in 2005.

Tinia decided prior to law school that she wanted to pursue a career in public interest law. Tinia did outreach work with various nonprofits in Boston, working with youth committed to the Department of Youth Services and the Department of Children and Families while an undergraduate student.  She received a Massachusetts Bar Association fellowship as a law student, in recognition of her interest in pursuing a public interest law career, enabling her to work at the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts.

Tinia is a current fellow in the 2017-18 class of the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) Leadership Academy.


Janette A. Ekanem, ESQ
Board Member

Janette A. Ekanem is an attorney for the Employment Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) where she provides legal capacity for worker-owned cooperatives and represents employees in a variety of employment litigation matters.  Prior to joining GBLS, Ms. Ekanem practiced commercial real estate law in a Boston law firm.

During law school, Ms. Ekanem served as a judicial intern to the Honorable Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland (Ret.) of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and as a law clerk for the United States Attorney’s Office.  She was also a Constitutional Law Teaching Assistant, participated in the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic, and served as the Director of Academic and External Affairs for the Black Law Students Association.  Ms. Ekanem serves as a judge for Intercollegiate Mock Trial Tournaments, as the Litigation Chair on the Board of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, and serves on Clark University's President’s Leadership Council. Additionally, Ms. Ekanem has served multiple terms on the Steering Committee of the Real Estate Section of the Boston Bar Association, and the Community Service Committee of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association.  Ms. Ekanem holds a B.A. in Government and International Relations, Magna Cum Laude, (2009) and a Master of Public Administration (2010), from Clark University.  She is a 2013 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law.

Jasmine Jean-Louis, ESQ
Board Member

Jasmine Jean-Louis is an attorney in the Insurance & Financial Services Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office where she investigates unfair or deceptive practices relating to investments and securities.  Prior to this position, she served as a judicial intern for the Hon. Kenneth V. Desmond, Jr., and a litigation paralegal on an insurance defense team at a Boston law firm. Jasmine serves on the Programs & Events and Community Service Committees of the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys and the Gala Committee of the Women’s Bar Association. She also serves on the Diversity & Inclusion Section Steering Committee of the Boston Bar Association where she oversees and executes events to advance diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Jasmine also serves on the board of the Elizabeth Stone House where she oversees its capital campaign. Jasmine is a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School.


Shahria Boston, ESQ.

Shahria H. Boston, Esq. is a seasoned attorney with extensive litigation experience. Attorney Boston operates a full service law firm that delivers high-quality legal representation to individuals and businesses. While Attorney Boston specializes in real estate, employment law and premises liability/personal injury, she handles a variety of civil matters. She practices in both state and federal court across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Attorney Boston serves on the Board of Directors for the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts – a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services and Boston’s Bridge to Excellence. She is also a volunteer for the Pilgrim Advocates’ Attorney for the Day Program at Southeast Housing Court.

Ms. Boston is the Treasurer for Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys. Attorney Boston is a Life Member of Massachusetts Black Lawyers’ Association and a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, Real Estate Bar Association, Greater Boston Real Estate Board and Massachusetts Association of Realtors.


Francesse Canty, ESQ.
Board Member

Francesse J. Canty is an Assistant General Counsel at Boston Water and Sewer Commission. Her practice focuses on torts, property rights, construction and procurement contracts and regulatory issues. Francesse is responsible for drafting administrative rules and regulations for the Commission and advising senior management on policy decisions. Francesse also conducts grievance hearings and assist personnel in the preparation of disciplinary actions.

Francesse is very active in the Boston legal community.  She is a board member of the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys. She also serves as both co-chairs of the Gala and Women of Color Committee for the Women Bar Association.

Francesse received her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School and her B.A. in International Studies and Criminology from University of South Florida. She currently lives with her family in Dorchester, MA.


Keidi S. Carrington, ESQ.
Board Member

Keidi S. Carrington is a business attorney with over 18 years of experience. She specializes in assisting entrepreneurs, startups and small to mid-sized businesses with their business formations, capital raises and general corporate legal needs.


Martsyl Joseph, ESQ.
Board Member

Martsyl Joseph was born and raised in Boston, MA. As a first-generation college student at Boston College, she developed a passion for advocacy. This led to the pursuit of not only a law degree, but also a Master’s degree in Public Affairs.  While in graduate school, Martsyl worked in the Indiana State Senate, on the tax and fiscal policy committee. She also volunteered with various nonprofit agencies mentoring children in school and children who were incarcerated. Prior to graduating law school, Martsyl completed internships in various public defender offices in Indiana, Florida, and Massachusetts. She worked not only on trial level cases, but post-conviction cases as well. Martsyl is currently a solo practitioner focusing on juvenile justice. She is the proud mom of a 21-month-old girl who loves to dance.


Chayla White, ESQ.
Board Member

Chayla White, Esq.  currently serves as the Deputy Director of the City of Boston’s Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing (MOCAL).  In this role, Chayla works with residents to prevent fraud and to recoup money for consumers who have become victims of fraud.  In addition to her consumer affairs duties, Chayla serves as legal advisor for the Licensing Division of the Mayor’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing.

Prior to joining MOCAL, Chayla served as an Assistant Corporation Counsel at the City of Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD), where she represented ISD in civil and criminal litigation to enforce the City of Boston Zoning Code and the State Building and Sanitary Codes. She also served as in-house counsel to Animal Care and Control where she updated and drafted Animal Care and Control City Ordinances.  She began her career in public service as a Legislative Aide to Mayor Walsh, while he served as a Massachusetts State Representative.

Chayla is a 2013 graduate of Suffolk University Law School and holds a B.A. in history from the University of Virginia.

Patrice C. Dixon, ESQ.

Patrice C. Dixon is a Counsel at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Office of Labor Relations and Employment Law.  In her role, she advises agency staff on labor and employment law matters thereby ensuring that the agency’s activities comply with applicable laws, policies as well as the collective bargaining agreements.  Additionally, Ms. Dixon advises agency managers on disciplinary matters and seeks to resolve grievances filed by union representatives.  She also conducts internal employment investigations, and represents the agency at arbitrations, and administrative hearings before the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance.  In addition, Ms. Dixon also engages in collective bargaining negotiations and contract formation with various Unions representing a workforce of over 5,000.  Ms. Dixon is a 2012 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law where she served as an active member of the Black Law Students Association.

Ms. Dixon has a strong passion for public interest and understands the importance of serving her community.  She is a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston Women’s Leadership Council.  In 2012, as part of Northeastern’s Due Diligence Project concerning violence against Women, Ms. Dixon worked as an intern with the Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers in Kampala, Uganda, where she conducted client counseling and mediation for over 30 indigent women clients on issues such as child support, child custody, domestic violence, and property disputes.


Tiffanie Ellis-Niles, ESQ.
Board Member

Tiffanie Cherie Ellis-Niles is a founding partner of Lyles and Niles, LLP, a general practice Law Firm on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Tiffanie focuses her practice on bankruptcy, domestic relations and landlord/tenant disputes. Tiffanie also has extensive experience representing clients in family law, real estate transactions, estate planning, small claims and contract matters.

Tiffanie is certified with the Committee of Public Counsel Family and Children division and represents children and parents involved with the Department of Children and Families.

In 1999, Tiffanie received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston and her Juris Doctorate from Suffolk University Law School in 2004. She was admitted to practice in Massachusetts in 2005. In 2010, Tiffanie was admitted to practice in the Massachusetts Bankruptcy Courts.

Tiffanie is the immediate past President of the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys and continues to sit on the broad. Additionally, Tiffanie serves on the board of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and The Brockton NAACP Branch. In 2014 and 2015, Tiffanie was recognized as a Massachusetts Rising Stars, by Lawyers Weekly Super Lawyers. In 2010, Tiffanie graduated from the Initiative for Diversity in Civic Leadership. Tiffanie lives in Brockton, MA with her husband and children.


Desiree Murphy, ESQ
Board Member

Desiree Murphy is an associate at Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP. Desiree's practice involves representing employers in a variety of labor and employment matters. Desiree is experienced in counseling employers on claims of employment discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, breach of contract, and wage and hour disputes. Her practice also includes representing employers in collective bargaining as well as grievance and arbitration proceedings. Prior to joining Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP, Desiree was a Labor Counsel in the Department of Labor Relations at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”), where she represented and advised management in various labor matters and disputes.

Desiree is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law (J.D., 2013) and Brandeis University (B.A., cum laude, 2010). During law school, Desiree was an active member of the National Black Law Student Association (“NBLSA”), serving on many planning committees as well as in leadership roles on both the local and regional levels of the organization – she served as the Regional Secretary for the Northeast Region of NBLSA (2011 – 2012) and as the Fall/Spring Co-Chair for the Northeastern University BLSA chapter (2012 – 2013).