Danielle Makia ’19, co-founder of Pembe, a non-profit organization established earlier this year, is looking for volunteers from the William & Mary Law School alumni body to mentor promising students of African descent as they navigate the law school admissions process.
“Pembe”, meaning “ivory” in Swahili, is an organization with a mission to “shatter the ‘ivory ceiling,’ one law student at a time.” The ‘ivory ceiling,’ Makia says, can be a lack of knowledge, financial inaccessibility, or lack of connections necessary to not only excel in the law school applications process, but in the legal field as well. Makia says the program wants to ensure that students of African descent have access to advice and encouragement from mentors during the LSAT preparation and law school application process.
The program is designed to assist those who plan to apply to law school in the next two years. They can be juniors or seniors in college or college graduates. The assistance provided is free of charge for those accepted into the program. The time commitment for volunteer mentors may vary from two to three hours a week and will largely depend on where the student is in the application process. For example, a mentee may be preparing for the LSAT or selecting where to apply or may be in the process of drafting essays and other documents necessary for applications.
The idea for the organization grew from a conversation between Makia and her cousin and Pembe co-founder, Brice Ngameni, who will graduate from Harvard Law School in May. Aïta Seck, a second-year law student at Columbia, joined the duo later as a co-founder and Director of Strategy and Development.
Makia and Ngameni know first-hand how important it is to have guidance and support during the long process of applying to law school.
Makia earned her undergraduate degree in government at the University of Virginia. “I was thinking about law school when I graduated, but I definitely needed to learn more about the field,” she said. That led her to work at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City as a paralegal, where she provided support for the firm’s antitrust litigation group for three years. The position was “a great gateway to exposure to a ton of legal professionals with whom I could talk about my interests and get advice from,” she said. “My time there cemented my desire to go to law school.” As the first person to go to law school in her family, she relied on guidance she received about the application process from people at the firm and from former classmates from UVA who had gone to law school.
Makia has worked as an associate in the technology division of Goldman Sachs in New York City since graduating from law school. She is part of a team that handles all regulatory and compliance requests from financial services regulators as they pertain to data privacy and cybersecurity.
Ngameni is from Cameroon and immigrated to the United States for his undergraduate education. When it came time to apply to law schools in the United States, he sought guidance from his cousin.
Makia credits Ngameni with the idea of starting the pipeline program. They talked about it, time passed, and then during the pandemic they decided to get it off the ground. “We’ve looped in our friends and colleagues to be a part of the program’s leadership,” she said. The Board is comprised of current law students and practicing attorneys based all over the country.
Now, each of three co-founders are turning to alumni of their law schools to find members of the profession interested in mentoring students. Prospective mentors, whether attorneys or law students, can indicate their interest by visiting Pembe’s website, www.pembeorg.com, and all questions can be directed to the program’s Directors of Mentor Recruiting at PembeMentorRecruiting@gmail.com.
The lawyers and law students who already have become involved in the program are truly passionate about seeing change in the profession, Makia said. “I would love for William & Mary law alumni to become involved.”
About William & Mary Law School
Legal education in a university setting began at William & Mary in 1779. Now in its third century, America's first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.