By KYW Newsradio community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (CBS) -- Born and raised in North Carolina, Reggie Shuford was a curious kid.
"Whenever anyone came to our house, it didn't matter who they were, I was just really interested in what made them tick," he says, recalling with a chuckle how he peppered guests with questions: " 'How many sisters do you have? How many brothers do you have?' "
Shuford's curiosity, combined with a tough upbringing amid de facto segregation, grew into a passion for civil rights. He says his early life on public assistance, raised by a single mother with five young children, opened his eyes.
"I witnessed how poor people, black people, women, single parents were treated," says Shuford, "and it struck me as fundamentally unfair."
Fast forward -- the UNC-trained lawyer spent time at corporate law firms and then at the national ACLU, before talking the helm of the ACLU of Pennsylvania in 2011.
"The great work was happening, and I wanted to elevate the awareness of it," he says.
A big part of his strategy was to beef up the civil liberties organization's communications and social media presence. He also took to the streets and neighborhoods, raising awareness about the work of the ACLU. He sits on panels and takes part in town hall meetings, telling community residents about stop-and-frisk, policing, and their First Amendment rights.
"If you want to get the word out about what you do, you have to meet people where they are," he says. "I travel across the city and across the state."
Shuford oversaw the ACLU of Pennsylvania's team of lawyers as they filed lawsuits challenging the state's voter ID law in 2012, and then in 2013 the ban on same-sex marriage.
"When we filed the lawsuits, we weren't sure what the outcome was going to be," says Shuford of the voter ID law.
Both laws were overturned.
"It was a deeply emotional," he says, of the ruling on same-sex marriage, "to have our clients here and have the finality of that fight."
And Shuford says the ACLU won't stop fighting for individuals: they're focused on women's rights, First Amendment advocacy, privacy rights, and much more.
"We have our work cut out for us," he notes, "but this is my calling and I'm honored to be able to do this work."
Hear the extended interview with Reggie Shuford in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 22:18)...
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