From a very young age, Velveta Golightly-Howell, February’s Alum of the Month, wanted to be in a position to effectuate positive changes in the world. After a long career of government service, Golightly-Howell feels incredibly blessed to have been appointed to her current position as Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where she has the opportunity to improve lives on a daily basis. As Director, Golightly-Howell leads the EPA’s national civil rights program. Her responsibilities include overseeing a staff that is responsible for ensuring compliance with various federal statutes and regulations that require reasonable working accommodations for otherwise qualified employees with disabilities, equal opportunity in employment, and nondiscrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance from the EPA based on certain protected statuses. For those closest to Golightly-Howell, it comes as no surprise that she relishes the responsibilities of her position, as throughout her life she has been sensitive to those in need and passionate about providing support and assistance whenever possible.
The extreme racial tension of the 1960's had a significant impact on Golightly-Howell, who grew up in Tuscaloosa. Even though she was only six years old when Governor George Wallace made his now-infamous speech supporting segregation, she remembers asking her father why it was happening. When Wallace later attempted to block African-American students from enrolling at the University less than a mile from her home, she watched as troops escorted those students into the school and decided then that a career as a lawyer would put her in the best position to help others. Golightly-Howell’s parents and the strong community around her as a child helped to instill in her and her four siblings both the confidence they needed to find future success, and the humility to be compassionate to those in need.
Golightly-Howell decided on Colorado Law after visiting her sister, an Army officer stationed in Aurora at the time, because the university town setting and beautiful scenery reminded her of Tuscaloosa. While the school would become the springboard for her future career, she recalls that the experience was, at times, difficult. In particular, she struggled with the unique challenges of being one of only a few minority students in a school still developing a more diverse student body. Always seeking to be a force for change, Golightly-Howell founded the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Black Women Attorneys, assumed leadership roles in organizations like the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, and accepted appointments to influential bodies, including the Supreme Court’s Ad Hoc Diversity in the Law Committee formed by Chief Justice Luis Rovira and the Commission on Judicial Performance, Second Judicial District.
Toward the end of her second year at Colorado Law, Golightly-Howell applied for an internship at the Denver District Attorney’s Office on the advice from fellow student Claudia Jordan. (Jordan became Colorado’s first female, African-American judge in 1994.) Golightly-Howell joined the District Attorney’s Office full-time after graduation and credits much of her success there to Colorado legal legend and Colorado Law Alum, Brooke Wunnicke, who remained a close friend and mentor for over 35 years. She would also like to recognize fellow interns Karen Steinhauser, Craig Silverman, Michael Cohen, and Bill Ritter, who were supportive friends and colleagues and each of whom remain important to her today. After spending six years at the District Attorney’s Office, where she also earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration, Golightly-Howell moved to the Denver City Attorney’s Office. From there, she spent a short time in the private sector, serving as counsel for the Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, before assuming the role of Chief Regional Civil Rights Attorney at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and then Regional Manager for HHS’ Office of Civil Rights. Golightly-Howell worked with HHS for more than twenty years prior to being appointed to her current position in February 2014 by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, a Presidential appointee. Having grown up under the tutelage of Mrs. Brooke Wunnicke, her lifelong mentor, Golightly-Howell has realized her passion of mentoring students from Colorado Law and other schools throughout her career.
Since graduating, Golightly-Howell has remained involved with Colorado Law by mentoring students, hiring interns, and recently speaking to students with her husband, John. Outside of work, she is an avid traveler, having visited more than 30 different countries, and notes that she particularly enjoys visiting France. She also enjoys music, theatre and the fine arts, and has been a lifelong reader. Golightly-Howell loves to spend time connecting with family, friends, and her wonderful mentees, and especially misses everyone who made her life so enjoyable for so many years in Colorado.
Five Questions for Velveta Golightly-Howell
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
My fondest memory is sitting on the grass outside the law school on warm days, studying with friends while enjoying their company.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
I wish I had known that there were resources that condensed the law and made it easily understandable.
What advice would you give to current students as they are preparing to graduate?
My advice is to savor and treasure each moment and experience that you have had at Colorado Law and to remember always why you decided to become a lawyer.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Without any doubt, legendary lawyer Brooke Wunnicke was the biggest influence on my career. Had I not met Brooke and learned at her knee, I may have given up when facing obstacles that could have easily blocked my path and career growth.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
On a personal level, I am most proud to have been married to my wonderful husband for 32 years and our two incredible sons. Professionally, I am most proud of having navigated the waters of the legal field, while gaining significant experience in criminal law, employment law, labor law, administrative law and civil rights law, without losing my commitment to making the world a better place.