United Way Creates Fellowship Honoring Cooney ’81

Olivia DrakeFebruary 12, 20214min
J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. '81
J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. ’81

The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) is honoring Wesleyan alumnus Gordon Cooney ’81 by establishing the J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. Fellowship in Criminal Justice.

Cooney, a government major at Wesleyan, works as a senior partner for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he oversees the firm’s litigation operations across the globe and has a long history of fighting for social justice. He served as regional board chair for UWGPSNJ from 2017–2020, and the fellowship was made in recognition of his significant leadership to United Way.

The J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. Fellowship in Criminal Justice is a six-month fellowship presented to people who have lived experience with the criminal justice system in Philadelphia, aspire to a career in criminal justice or community organizing, and who have shown a commitment to social equity. The Cooney Fellowship is coordinated with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE), a UWGPSNJ-supported nonprofit agency that, since its founding in 2011, helps low-income Philadelphians clean up their criminal records.

“I am honored to have this fellowship established in my name,” Cooney Jr. said in a press release issued by UWGPSNJ. “It was a privilege to serve as Regional Board Chair for United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and I am pleased to continue to work with UWGPSNJ to fight poverty and injustice in our region. This fellowship will provide opportunities and support to people who are using their experience with the criminal justice system to help others.”

The first recipient of the Cooney Fellowship will be Akeem Sims, a neighborhood activist and advocate for pardon reform who once worked at Morgan Lewis and is now an associate in the tax and bookkeeping services department of the Anita T. Conner Financial Group. He will be embedded in Diversified Community Services, Inc., an innovative UWGPSNJ agency that primarily serves the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia.

“Gordon Cooney has long been one of the best corporate trial attorneys in America, and he is well known in Philadelphia for his philanthropy,” said Tobey Oxholm, PLSE’s executive director, “but few know that he helped save someone from being executed who was wrongly convicted. Our nation’s pledge to provide ‘liberty and justice for all’ really means something to Gordon, and we are humbled to have his commitment to equal justice honored by having this fellowship in his name established with us.”

Philadelphia is the nation’s poorest big city, with more than 700,000 people living in poverty. As a leading poverty-fighting organization, UWGPSNJ continues to invest in programs like the Cooney Fellowship that will address the root causes of poverty and work towards creating a more just and equitable community.