(Pictured Above: Charlotte School of Law’s Victoria Owens (left) and Z’a Williams)
City native Vondell Davis believes in planning ahead.
Since she was 16, Davis, the oldest of five children, has been working towards her goal of becoming a corporate attorney. Last week, the Winston-Salem State University senior continued on her quest at Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops, where she was able to network and compare notes with other law and pre-law students from across North and South Carolina.
“I just do everything that I can so I can see what I’m getting into if I do enroll at Wake Forest,” said Davis, who is hoping to be accepted to the university’s JMBA program, which includes a law degree and an MBA. “It’s not about where you’re going – it’s about who you meet during that time.”
Davis, 23, was one of nearly 100 up and coming African American law and pre-law students from across the region who convened at Wake Forest on Oct. 25 and 26 for the National Black Law Students Association’s Academic Retreat for Sub-Region III. The event – which included networking sessions, panel discussions and workshops on everything from dressing for success to academic excellence – was presented by the Southern Region of BLSA, which encompasses nine states, 46 law schools and nearly 2,000 students. Ruth Tisdale, a third-year law student at WFU and chair of the Southern Region, said the retreat offered an opportunity for students from across the sub-region to learn, network and have a little fun along the way.
“I really hope that they gain a sense of academic excellence. I hope that they take back to their schools a sense of ‘I need to study a little more, I need to do a little bit more,’ but also a sense of pride in being a black law student,” said the Howard University alumna. “…I just hope that this is a way for black law students and pre-law students to see how important it is for you to excel in the classroom so you can give back to your community.”
African American law students face added pressures, often feeling they have to prove themselves in the profession. That pressure is offset by the high esteem that the black community holds them in, Tisdale said.
“When you go into different states and different communities and say, ‘I’m a black law student…’ you see the pride that they have,” “That really does a lot for you. It helps you get through your coursework because you have people who are supporting you – you have a community that’s rooting for you to succeed.”
In a world where black attorneys are the exception, not the rule, BLSA offers an added layer of support and encouragement for minority students, said Denise Acron, a third-year student and president of the WFU BLSA chapter. The retreat was a prime opportunity to raise awareness about the chapter, which she says is home to a diverse membership, and network of support it offers, added Acron, an aspiring district attorney.
“It’s our push to open our doors and let people know that we’re here,” the Columbia University alumna said of the group. “…We don’t cut ourselves off from the larger community, but just knowing that we are a smaller minority in the school, we are there for one another. We’re a very close knit community.”
Davis said the chapter’s strong presence on campus is one of the reasons Wake Forest is her top law school choice.
“When I researched it online, it made me fall in love,” she said of the organization. “I never knew that these things were out here. Not only are they selling themselves, but it’s something that will benefit you (as a law student) in the future.”
Victoria Owens and Z’a Williams said the BLSA chapter at Charlotte School of Law has had a positive impact on their law school careers. Last week’s retreat offered a welcome break from the hectic pace of their final two semesters as law students, said Williams, who serves as vice president of the chapter, which was home to 111 members last year.
“Since we’re both 3L’s (third year students), this is our last year coming to events like this,” said the Valdosta, Ga. native, who plans to specialize in family law. “It’s a good way to stay motivated. Every time I go to a networking event like this, I always walk away with something new that I never knew before.”
Owens, an alumna of the University of Illinois and the Charlotte Law Chapter president, said the Welcome Reception was fraught with the kind of camaraderie and warmth that she and Williams have come to expect from BLSA.
“Everyone’s been very welcoming, but we wouldn’t expect anything different,” said the Oak Park, Illinois native. “That’s usually what we get with BLSA.”