Black History Month – Profiles
Law Student | University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood. I was born of an African-American mother and a Nigerian father. I’ve studied around the world, but some of the most notable explorations I had were in Nigeria, France, and Argentina. I graduated from Allegheny College, where I majored in Political Science and Spanish and minored in Chinese. Currently, I attend Pitt Law, which I will be graduating from this spring. My ancestral background and my endeavors have deeply informed my self-awareness, self-confidence, and the way I see the world. My various experiences have grounded my viewpoints in empathy, which greatly shapes the type of attorney I am striving to become. I am passionate about social justice and seeing the world become an equitable place for all its inhabitants. Serving some of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society is my most current goal and what I plan to do after law school.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
For me, Black History Month means a time when a higher wattage must be used to amplify the light on the amazing contributions of countless Black pioneers throughout history. It is a time to discuss more than the, unequivocal but water-downed, strides and accomplishments of figures like, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. While these are iconic figures of U.S. history, who are worthy of every praise and recognition, Black history has often been condensed by the restraints of respectability politics or a re-writing of the United States’ past to tell a muted or idealized version of what it means or looks like to fight for justice and equity. This is why Black History Month, to me, means a revival, a time to re-focus and re-orient ourselves for the year ahead, by remembering the feats of so many Black trailblazers. Therein, we can seek to remember where we came from, so that we may embrace who we are and who we seek to be in an equitable society free of fear and doubt.
What do you find inspirational about Black History Month?
What I find inspirational about Black History Month is that we are able to tell and appreciate all of U.S. history through a more conscious and purposeful lens by way of the Black experience. February presents an opportunity to intentionally remember and celebrate all Black contributors of this country’s collective success, be it on a local, national, or international level. No matter the status of the individual that this month invokes us to reflect on, it is inspiring that it allows us to see how there is a way to contribute to and positively impact each chapter of our shared history no matter the challenges we face.
Who is your Black hero or role model and why?
I am in awe of Maya Angelou. Another fact about me is that I love poetry and use to write it all the time during my childhood and up until college. Maya Angelou was a part of that motivation. Her ability to tell a story or to create such prolific images in my head through words alone always inspired me. Her work espoused freedom, beauty, truth, history, and self-love, which is so crucial to embrace in each chapter of our lives. Not to mention, her work helped me to discover my own voice, for which I will always appreciate her life on this earth.
What is your favorite Black character from a movie, TV show, or book and why?
Such a hard but great question! I would have to say that it is a tie between Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and all four Black women that made up the main cast in Living Single – Maxine (Erica Alexander), Khadijah (Queen Latifah), Synclaire (Kim Coles), and Regine (Kim Fields). I think no one can reflect on a trauma or seemingly insurmountable struggle they have faced and not identify with Celie. This character not only spoke to the abuse that so many Black women have experienced and continue to go through at the hands of those closest to them, but her character also speaks to the most basic yet most profound of human events in the form of survival and love. I cannot read the book or watch the movie without crying yet feeling so full at the end. Then there are the ladies of Living Single, who I feel are a collective and dynamic representation of myself and so many other amazing women in my life. As I get older, I can relate to each of their experiences more and always with a lot of laughs!
What movie, TV show, or book would you recommend to someone who wants to be a better ally to African-Americans?
I would recommend reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and watching Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us as well as Chelsea Handler’s Hello Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea. I think each of these touch on the legal, societal, and economic inequalities that help to perpetuate injustice, prejudice, and racism in today’s world. A part of being an ally is understanding the challenges that a specific group faces while at the same time not looking at the group you seek to support as needing to be catered to or inferiorized. Instead, I think each of these narratives provides tools for empathy (as opposed to sympathy), which I find missing from some allies today.
What advice would you give to a young African American lawyer just starting out in their career?
I would tell a young African-American law student to understand that the American legal landscape was not created for us, but that does not mean you cannot change it or contribute to it in your own unique way. Law school can be extremely difficult, especially in a predominantly White institution. There may be times when you feel like giving up, but you are able to get through this. Make sure to have something that grounds you or that you can retreat to when times get hard or when you find yourself feeling isolated, overlooked, dismissed, or unheard. Be it your faith, your family, your friends, your journal – whatever it is – make sure you instill a healthy outlet and a safe space for yourself to find reprieve. Law school can also be an amazing time in your life. There is no absolute right way to get through law school. However, if you do it “right” then you will leave a fuller person than what you were when you entered. Always be honest with yourself and be humble. Trust in your abilities to impact whatever you set your mind to and reach out to those in the legal field who will support you through your journey. Finally, when your time comes, make sure you help those who come after you.
What advice would you give legal employers about what they can do to make workplaces welcoming and supportive for Black lawyers?
One of my mentors told me that there is no point in having good seed if the soil they are planted in is poison. The same logic applies to employers. Employers cannot express desires of diversity without first implementing measures that ensure the work environments they are responsible for provide safe spaces for Black attorneys to thrive. A part of this is creating opportunities for upward trajectory in the workplace within a reasonable amount of time. I would love to see more Black attorneys in Pittsburgh but without first establishing sound mechanisms of retention and professional growth, this cannot be accomplished.