William and Mary Law School

From Williamsburg to Johannesburg: a tale of two burgs

My first year of law school has abruptly come to an end, along with all of its challenges, surprises, events, legal writing assignments, mock client interviews and negotiations, competitions, and final exams. Tomorrow, I will be leaving Williamsburg, Virginia, and heading to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

My trip to and internship in South Africa were made possible thanks to a generous gift from John and Brenda Scanelli, to whom I am very grateful. Their kind hearts, leadership, and international service are remarkable and examplary. John Scanelli's career in real estate law and development, and his public service are both paths I wish to pursue. I also wish to thank Dr. Christie Warren, whose thoughtfulness, distinguished career, wide network, resourcefulness, wisdom, and diligence not only made this internship possible, but more importantly are a source of inspiration to all who have the privilege of having her as a teacher.

W&M BLSA with Cornel West

William and Mary's Black Law Students Association (BLSA) took this picture with Dr. Cornel West when he spoke on campus last year. This coming academic year, I will have the honor of serving as BLSA's Symposium Chair, which means I can help bring such brilliant people as Dr. West together at William & Mary Law School for a discussion on current issues particularly relevant to the black and African community.

You may rightfully ask yourself, how can a man as light-skinned as Vahid be either black or African? Of course, one need not be black to be passionately moved by issues of injustice that have long afflicted our darker-skinned brothers and sisters. Any one who either comes from an ethnic minority, or who experienced injustice in their childhood, can also deeply sympathize with any human longing for justice, regardless of whose longing it is. As Dr. King wrote from Birmingham jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

My mother is a blond, blue-eyed American who caught the brown eyes of my Iranian dad when both were in Niger, West Africa, in the early 70s. They raised my siblings and I there for over 25 years before moving the family to the United States. My formative years, up to when I was thirteen, were spent in Niger, where my classmates were of multiple different nationalities, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status. I grew up being disciplined and loved by a diverse community of elders, whom I referred to as my aunts and uncles, such that the saying "It takes a village to raise a child" is deeply personal.

I have not been back to Africa for ten years now, so this trip to South Africa is highly momentous. I served as President of the African Student Association (AFSA) in my undergraduate days at Arizona State, played the djembe drum, and won business plan competitions for a company that I co-founded in Arizona with 5 brothers from AFSA. But nothing is like the feeling of actually being on the continent.

In Niger, we think of South Africa as being more like Europe than Africa. I remember hearing and singing Johnny Clegg's "Asimbonanga" as a child in Niger, but it wasn't until I read Alan Paton's "Cry, the Beloved Country" in the US in 9th grade that I had some sense of the struggle against apartheid. I have since grown to appreciate and respect the profound human talent that the diversity in South Africa has produced, including Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, and yes, even Elon Musk (I love fast cars, especially when they are fuel-efficient!).

My work in South Africa will be with Khulumani, an organization that helps victims of apartheid. My training will start this Friday, May 17th. My flight will first take me to Frankfurt, and then Johannesburg. 

So, here's to discovering a new world, challenging my preconceptions, learning, growing, and serving!