Honoring a Legacy: BLSA Students Meet Civil Rights Icons

Reflecting on the 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education with the Little Rock Nine

From left to right: Cynthia Goode Works, director of the Stephen S. Weinstein Advocacy Program; Victoria Paul, historian BLSA; Alma Bevard, director of faculty and alumni relations BLSA; Brittany Walker, Adonte Yearwood, Dean Fairfax, London Henderson, Bolu Jegede, and Jayla Mack, BLSA president

Friday, May 17, 2024, marked the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional. Dean Roger Fairfax, along with seven BLSA students, joined Cynthia Goode Works, director of the Stephen S. Weinstein Advocacy Program, and her cousin, civil rights icon Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest of the Little Rock Nine, at the National Museum of African American History & Culture for an inspiring event titled "Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future." They also met five of the surviving Little Rock Nine who engaged in a panel discussion moderated by award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph about the lasting impact of the landmark decision. President Joseph Biden provided remarks and, along with NAACP leaders, honored these champions of educational justice.

This event had a profound impact on the members of the Black Law Student's Association (BLSA).

"To read and learn about the Brown decision in class was important but hearing about it in person from the NAACP and the voices of some of the Little Rock Nine was monumental for me," said BLSA student Bolu Jegede. "As a law student, it taught me that the fight for justice and equity that started more than seventy years ago must continue. More than that, it stirred up the passionate advocacy that I have always admired in past and current leaders, and I came to law school to nurture."

BLSA student Adonte´ Yearwood was in awe of what he learned on the trip. He expressed, "Sitting at the 70th commemoration of Brown v. Board of Education demonstrated the partnership of law and 'on-the-ground' activism, seeking that it be enforced as intended. The Little Rock Nine were such activists who fought on the ground so that I could have equal access to institutions of learning, which I have taken for granted. Seeing those civil rights giants, who are no older than my grandparents, served as two reminders. One, we have come a long way in educational equity for minority students across America, and two, we have not gone far enough and, in some cases, backtracked, and thus, the fight continues."

Echoing the sentiments of her peers, BLSA student Alma Bevard described the experience as an honor beyond words.

"Participating in the celebration of such a significant milestone in our nation's history was an honor beyond words. Hearing of the bravery and resilience of the Little Rock Nine, who paved the way for equal educational opportunities, was incredibly inspiring," Bevard said. "Their courage served as a reminder of the progress we have made and the work that still lies ahead in achieving true equality. This experience reinforced my commitment to advocating for justice and equal rights. It highlighted the importance of using the law as a tool for positive change and combating systemic inequalities. It was a powerful reminder of the impact we can make as individuals and as a collective."

In the words of Carlotta Walls LaNier, "At that moment, I understood that being a part of history was not just about what happened in the past, but about carrying the lessons forward to shape a better future. The 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education reminded me of the power of education in breaking down barriers and the responsibility we have as future legal professionals to continue the fight for equality."

~ Story by Cynthia Goode Works