Moursy Earns NAACP Marsall-Motley Scholarship

Portrait of Sondos Moursey
Sondos Moursy, Class of 2026, photo by Callie Richmond

Growing up as a Muslim immigrant in the Deep South gave Sondos Moursy ’26 an uncommon perspective on issues of human rights—and fueled a determination to help people on the margins of society. 

For her work championing economic opportunities for formerly incarcerated people of color, the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund has named Moursy a 2023 Marshall-Motley Scholar. Each year, 10 student applicants from around the country receive a full law school scholarship for tuition, room and board, and incidentals. After graduation, they complete two-year postgraduate fellowships at civil rights law organizations in the South and have access to trainings with LDF and the National Academy of Sciences. In return, they commit the first eight years of their practice to civil rights law on behalf of Black communities in the South.   

The program honors the contributions of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge and an iconic civil rights litigator. 

Arriving in Louisiana  

In 2005, Moursy moved with her family from Alexandria, Egypt, to Lafayette, Louisiana, when her parents started graduate school. She recalls feeling accepted among friends on her own, but when her mother, wearing the hijab, came to school events, there were whispers and stares. Moursy struggled to adjust to life in the West and felt as if her family’s Islamic values conflicted with the Western lifestyle. 

The Muslim community in Lafayette was a source of solace. Some of the individuals who influenced Moursy the most were the Black people she got to know through the mosque’s community work. She remembers one man in particular, a pillar in the Muslim community who was deeply involved in helping immigrants and others in need.  

“He had been in and out of incarceration his whole life,” Moursy recalls. “We were raised with the stigma that anybody who’s incarcerated is bad or they deserve it. So, to meet someone who was so influential and amazing, and just beautiful inside and out, that left a lasting impact on me.” 

As a young child, she perceived injustices against Black people on every level. She recalls Black students being disciplined more often despite not acting differently from their white classmates. The school buses were effectively segregated, carrying Black and white students to largely separate neighborhoods.  

In Houston, where the family moved when Moursy was in high school, she struggled as the only cross-country and track athlete to compete in a hijab and often came in contact with intolerant competitors. 

Work in Houston   

Those experiences prompted Moursy’s work with formerly incarcerated people during her four years as an undergraduate at the University of Houston: As a fellow in the university’s Action Research in Communities program, Moursy researched and identified the needs of incarcerated women through their testimonies and data analysis. Her project provided recommendations to bolster re-entry through educational opportunities, career services and community building. And as a college intern in the mayor’s office, she further advocated for women who emerge from prison with no economic opportunities; a training and employment program she helped design bridged the gap in legal employment opportunities for them.  

While an honors student at UH, Moursy helped organize the Healing Injustice Conference, which brought together lawyers, social workers, community health workers, and data scientists to rethink the way people without economic means experience legal representation. 

Through this work, Moursy concluded she needed to be on the inside of the legal system to effect the most change, so she set her sights on law school. 

“One of the reasons that I chose Texas Law was because they have so many legal clinics and pro bono projects specifically focusing on carceral injustice,” Moursy says, adding that Texas Law’s research strengths in capital punishment were a particular draw. She says she hopes to intern this summer at an organization that is working for alternatives to the death penalty.  

“Texas Law is a fantastic place to prepare for a career in civil rights lawyering,” adds Nicole Simmons, the director of the school’s William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law. “In addition to our excellent clinics and pro bono opportunities, such as the Civil Rights Clinic and the Parole Project, there is also a huge community of like-minded people sharing knowledge, experience, and professional connections.” 

The advocacy qualities sought by the scholarship committee also made Moursy an outstanding Texas Law applicant, says Mathiew Le, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid. 

“Sondos transforms her personal and professional experiences into fuel to advocate for marginalized groups and mobilize communities. We are always looking for candidates who have demonstrated exceptional abilities in and out of the classroom, and Sondos’ application showed exactly that,” he says. 

Scholarship Winner  

It is a hard battle at times, Moursy says—so much so that she didn’t expect the recognition when she first read the NAACP’s letter announcing her as a Marshall-Motley Scholar.   

“It was validation that I am not screaming into a void, that my work has some sort of impact, and somebody on this Earth recognizes that enough to support it,” she says.  

The scholarship program’s goal is to provide the Southern U.S. with a new generation of civil rights lawyers. For interested Texas Law students, applications for the program’s fourth cohort are being accepted through Feb. 2, 2024.  

Scholars receive full tuition, room and board, and incidentals for three years of law school, as well as summer internships with civil rights organizations in the South, a two-year postgraduate fellowship, and ongoing professional development.  

Moursy says the 13-year commitment required by the scholarship—three in law school, two in postgraduate study, and eight as a civil rights lawyer in the South—was an easy one to make. 

“With or without the scholarship, I was going to make that commitment,” she says. “I’m really passionate about furthering this work in carceral justice, and the Marshall-Motley program supports that. To keep growing, this work takes funding. I can just focus on doing the work because somebody else paid for it. And that in itself is the biggest privilege.” 

New Opportunities for Aspiring Law Students 

The Marshall Motley Scholars initiative is one of several opportunities available from independent entities that give aspiring Texas Law applicants access to scholarships and legal training, especially in the area of public service. For example, the Weil Legal Innovators Program, a unique initiative created by the prestigious Weil, Gotshal & Manges LL,P law firm, engages incoming 1Ls with pressing social and legal challenges, asking participants admitted to one of a small, select group of top U.S. law schools—including Texas Law, along with Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, among others—to defer their attendance for one year in order to participate. 

Category: Student Life, Student Spotlight