The William & Mary Jefferson Chapter of BLSA (Black Law Students Association) kicked off Black History Month with its annual symposium on Saturday, February 1. The topic of this year’s event was “Social Activism and the Law,” and was moderated by Professor Timothy Zick, the John Marshall Professor of Government and Citizenship at William & Mary Law School.
In his opening remarks, Zick illustrated the very broad work of social activism and the ways it manifests itself in such activities as creating bonds and connections with like-minded individuals, sacrificing one’s time and resources to engage in social activism, storytelling, petitioning government officials, sometimes litigating, and calling out racist and unjust behavior.
“Social activism is a sustained, multi-faceted and strategically diverse effort,” Zick said. “And we are so lucky to have this panel with us because they connect to many of those activities I just mentioned in diverse ways in their work and in their background.”
Zick guided the discussion by posing questions from the following topic areas: Freedom of Assembly, Cyber Protest, Civil Liability, Social Activism, and Privacy. Providing thoughtful and thought-provoking responses was an esteemed panel of experts, including:
- David Baugh, one of the most respected and experienced criminal trial lawyers in the Commonwealth of Virginia;
- Ife Kilimanjaro, an author, connector, researcher, administrator, teacher, activist and healer;
- Tabatha Abu El-Haj, a law professor at Drexel Kline School of Law;
- Quentin Bell, the Co-founder/Executive Director of The Knights & Orchids Society;
- Tracey L. Brown, Managing Partner at The Cochran Firm in New York City; and
- Zachary R. Wood, an Assistant Curator at TED.
The conversation began with each speaker sharing how they got their start in social activism work and how their life experiences led them to become social activists. Each speaker had unique stories, backgrounds and upbringings, but the common threads between them was high intellectual curiosity, a will to effectuate change, and struggles they faced as children or teenagers that charged them to foster justice in their communities.
Each panelist also shared advice with the audience on how to address the challenges they may face in their work as social activists. Tracey Brown highlighted the importance of social media as an advocacy tool and not to discount it as a tool to change hearts and minds. Ife Kilimanjaro told panelists to “lean into fear, but not let it stop us from fighting for something we believe in.”
Following a Q&A session, Professor Tara Grove, the Mills E. Godwin, Jr. Professor of Law at William & Mary, provided closing remarks that highlighted major points of the panel and shared her own thoughts. She iterated David Baugh’s sentiment that “Americans do not have a sense of justice, but have a sense of injustice,” and that people can all be social activists. Following Quentin Bell, she added that people should not underestimate the value of their lived experiences in the work they do. She also highlighted Zachary Wood’s ideology that people must be strategic, have clear goals and be flexible in their approach to social activism.
In addition to celebrating Black History Month, the event served as part of the Diversity Matters initiative at the Law School. Under the umbrella of #celebratediversity@W&MLaw, the Law School is curating events that highlight and celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Diversity matters at William & Mary Law,” said Laura Shepherd, Associate Dean for Student Services. “We strive to create a community where diverse people are welcomed, included and valued.”
The event was sponsored by the William & Mary Center for Student Diversity and Themis Bar Review. BLSA’s 2020 Symposium Committee, Dannieka McLean ’21, Nick Armah ’21, Ndome Essoka ’21, Chimuanya Osuoha ’21, and Lauren Walker ’21, made it all come together.
At William & Mary, BLSA works hard to serve as an academic and social resource for law students, while also providing professional development and networking opportunities to prepare students for a long and successful career in law.
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.