Path to the top

“I try not to paint with too broad a brush.”

This is the approach that Vincent Cornelius has taken toward race throughout his life and career. As a black man, the relationships he’s formed and connections he’s made have been dictated less by the color of his own skin and more on the character of others.

It’s likely this mindset that has allowed Cornelius, 49, to establish a noteworthy legal career, including his current path to eventually becoming the first black president in the nearly 140-year history of the Illinois State Bar Association.

Cornelius’ looks resemble those of a 20-something lawyer fresh out of law school. But in his 6-foot-4-inch exterior lies the mental attitude of not only a seasoned trial attorney, but that of a man who has balanced his cultural identity with an ability to form and maintain relationships with people from all walks of life.

One river, two sides

Cornelius was born in the Negro Ward of Jefferson County Hospital in Pine Bluff, Ark., two months before the enactment of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 rendered the ward unconstitutional. His biological father, U.S. Brown Jr., died in an automobile accident when his mother Lorrayne was two months pregnant with Cornelius.

In 1966, Lorrayne answered a call for teachers who graduated from historically black colleges and universities to come to work in Joliet; Cornelius stayed behind for a few years with his grandmother in Arkansas before joining his mother.

He attended Washington Junior High School in Joliet, where Lorrayne taught physical education and science for 35 years.

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