BLSA Organization and President Support Community Youth, Work to Improve Diversity in Legal Community
3L Rebecca Knight, president of Cincinnati Law’s Black Law Student Association, collaborated with the YMCA’s Black and Latina Achievers Program to create program opening the doors of the legal profession to youth.
Cincinnati, OH – “I believe that every lawyer has an obligation to the community that they serve and that they work in.”
Rebecca Knight, 3L and president of the Black Student Law Association, has had a winding journey to reach her childhood dream of becoming an attorney. With a humble attitude and a passion for law, her hard work and determination would eventually lead her to join Dinsmore and Shohl LLP’s litigation practice after graduation. However, during her time as a student, she has never forgotten the importance of giving back to her community.
Since the age of 12, Knight wanted to be an attorney. Originally from the Washington D.C area, Knight studied political science at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Though she enjoyed her time here at a small liberal arts college, the path ahead of her still remained unclear.
Knight’s passion to help those in need lead her to apply for the Peace Corps after her undergraduate years. However, due to budget cuts during the year of her application, Congress was unable to secure the necessary funding. Knight was not deterred. Soon afterward, she landed back on her feet with a job as a paralegal.
“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from high school,” said Knight. “So I didn’t have any sort of background into what a lawyer does, what it takes to become an attorney, or what makes a good attorney. I really wanted to get my feet wet first, because I thought I knew what I wanted to do, and I thought I had the skill set for it. I allowed myself to test it out first, and it worked out really well.”
Knight spent two years as a paralegal, working full time at a small boutique firm under the direction of five attorneys. Though she recalls the work being daunting at times, Knight’s strong work ethic led her to go above and beyond her responsibilities all the time. When she finally reached the decision to apply for law school, she received overwhelming support.
“All my attorney’s really got behind me,” said Knight. “That’s why I got the opportunities, no other paralegals went to trials and that’s what I did. I drafted briefs, I did pleadings for them to sign, I went to depositions with them from time to time. I knew the cases, I knew the files, and I knew the people. All my attorney’s really got behind me, and that kind of solidified my decision to come to law school.”
Knight “cast the net really wide” in choosing the right law school for her. She was immediately drawn to the history of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law. She was fascinated by the idea that 27th president and 10th Chief Justice of the United States, William Howard Taft, attended the university. Above all, Knight loved the class size, and the support from the faculty and staff. After her first visit, she fell in love.
“I loved everyone I met,” said Knight. “I remembered being so enamored, these people are incredible, and doing very big things in this city. The professors were engaging; everyone was interested in getting to know me a lot better. It was awesome, no other law school ever treated me like this. It’s a smaller environment and that’s kind of what I wanted.”
After arriving at UC’s College of Law, Knight excelled. In addition to being the editor-in-chief of the Cincinnati Law’s Intellectual Property and Computer Law Journal, and a student leader of Honor Council, Knight takes great pride in being president of the Black Law Student Association.
“My goal coming in as the BLSA president was to make sure that every student of color here has a place,” said Knight. “It can be intimating when you’re one of three black women in the class. It can be very isolating if you are constantly feeling like others might view you differently, you have to work harder to prove them wrong. I want to make sure every student of color that walks into this building feels like they have a safe space, and that’s what BLSA is intended to be.”
The BLSA maintains a strong commitment to the service component of their program. With help from Knight, the organization developed of a collaborative program with the YMCA’s Black and Latino’s Achiever’s program. The purpose is to prepare teenagers for college and beyond by providing them with career exploration opportunities, college visits, toastmasters, scholarships, and more.
The Black and Latinos Achiever’s program has numerous career clusters where students can engage with professionals and learn more about specific professions. However, after dropping off money the BLSA raised for the program in their annual basketball tournament, Knight became aware of an opportunity to really make an impact in her community.
“Last year we raised a little bit over $400 to buy a laptop for a student,” said Knight. “When we went to go drop off our scholarship check, of course, they told me about how the law cluster has been defunct for years now. That made me very sad, especially since I was one of those kids. If I had a program like that when I was younger, I’m sure that my path would have been a lot different, and much more focused. I didn’t know anyone who was an attorney or in law school, so, I had no idea. I could have gotten answers to my questions a lot earlier if there was something like this around. I have to do this; I have to be a part of this.”
Knight and the BLSA developed a curriculum for the Black and Latino Achiever’s Program that included everything a student needs to know to become a lawyer. She highlighted the important skill sets necessary for the work, what to do in undergrad, the LSAT, passing the bar, and other crucial aspects. In the curriculum, Knight even teaches the students about how the government is structured, and how the judiciary branch works.
“We really run them through the gamut,” said Knight, “all the things you can possibly do with law, how they work, and how laws directly impact your everyday life. We’ve even talked about police brutality and how it’s affected communities of color. You could see the light bulbs going off, and that’s when I thought ‘this is what I’m here for.’ We’re supposed to be teaching these kids this. By the end I have 10 kids who say, ‘I want to be an attorney’, and that’s amazing.”
The collaboration with the Black and Latino Achievers program is not only a way to fulfill the service component of the BLSA’s objective, but Knight also views this as an opportunity to make a change for future generations of color. The partnership is a way to directly impact Black and Latino youth in the area to be more involved in law, to overcome societal disadvantages, and make sure teens know that a career in law is attainable.
“If kids don’t know that this is an option for them, how can we increase diversity in the legal community nationwide?” said Knight. “It’s an issue, and it needs to be addressed. This is a small way of doing that. We’ve already made it, we’re here. We’re already very privileged people for being here. So now we need to bring more people through the door with us.”
On April 22nd, the community will have the opportunity to see the program come to life. In a mock trial event, the students in the Black and Latino Achievers program will be showcasing all the hard work they have done and the knowledge they have acquired about the law in a mock trial event at Cincinnati State Community and Technical College. Using a car theft case, students will take on the roles of each person in a court room during a trial.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to show what they’ve learned,” said Knight. “This gives the parents and others in the community the opportunity to see what they’ve been doing. They understand every single person’s roles in the courtroom. They aren’t just acting out something, they know everything that they are doing.”
Though Knight will be graduating this year and starting her professional career at the Cincinnati offices of Dinsmore and Shohl LLP, her commitment to the community will never end. In addition to supporting the next BLSA president, she will be encouraging her/him to continue the collaboration with the Black and Latino Achievers Program.
“Nobody got here without the help of someone else,” said Knight. “We always want to take credit, but the reality is, if it wasn’t for someone who encouraged us, then we wouldn’t be here now. It’s small, but it’s important. We all need the push, and we’ve all been fortunate enough to have that, and so now we have to turn around and give it to someone else.”
About the BLSA
The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s chapter of the BLSA is part of the National Black Law Student Association. Initially created in 1969, the BLSA existed to open law school doors and enhance the quality of education for African-American students throughout the United States. The organization has been significant in providing African-Americans with providing ample opportunities and access to the field of law during the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and continues into the 21st century. BLSA is determined in preserve and advocate for major increases in the number of African-Americans faculty hired and African-American students admitted into law schools throughout the United States.
About the Black and Latino’s Achievers Program
The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Black and Latino Achiever’s Program is a college readiness and career exploration program, which provides teens with the essential tools to pursue higher education and to identify different career opportunities. The focus of the program is to strengthen the community by strengthening the lives of the youth in the community. Student’s are mentored by career-oriented adults to engage in hands-on learning, college readiness, career development and leadership development. Through workshops, college tours, fundraising and more, the program exists to change the direction of lives. The program has awarded over $200,000 in scholarships, and engaged more than 4,000 adult volunteers though corporate and community sponsors.
Writer: Kyler Davis ‘19, Communication Intern