It was still dark when Carles Anderson’s alarm went off on a recent Saturday morning. She and some of her Charleston School of Law classmates got dressed, packed into cars, and began the two-hour drive to Columbia. Why was it worth getting up so early on a weekend?
“I wanted to meet the trailblazers and see more people who look like me succeed in their goals,” Carles says. She was one of about 30 minority law school students who attended Thrive in Columbia, South Carolina, Parker Poe’s program to help minority law students navigate law school, make a successful transition into the practice of law after graduation, and thrive as they pursue the different paths a legal career may take.
Parker Poe hosted the daylong program in its Raleigh office on January 20 and its Columbia office on February 24. Nearly 100 students from seven different schools across the Carolinas took part. More than 30 Parker Poe attorneys and staff teamed up to make it happen.
“It is really important to us and the firm to provide this kind of support to students of color,” Director of Diversity & Inclusion Chara O’Neale told the students. “Don’t hesitate to stop us and ask us questions. We are an open book.”
The keynote speaker in Columbia and Raleigh was Toussaint Romain, an assistant public defender for Mecklenburg County. Over the years, Toussaint has received numerous awards and recognitions from a variety of diverse organizations. He was named a 2016 "Charlottean of the Year" in part because of how he put himself in between protesters and police during several nights of massive protests after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
“You are going to be in a position to help heal society,” he told the students as he led them through a thought-provoking presentation about racial history in America. “Implicit bias lives on. So many people went before you. Who are you going to put on your shoulders?”
“It only takes one person to make a difference,” Toussaint said at the conclusion of his presentation, “but all of us should try.”
Next, a panel of diverse Parker Poe attorneys described their legal practices, what an average day can look like, and gave practical advice that they wish they had received in law school.
Then the students went through three breakout sessions. One offered first-generation law school students insight into how to succeed in law school and an opportunity to answer questions that have surfaced during their first year. Another provided advice on how to land a job outside of on-campus recruiting. And the third focused on best practices for LinkedIn, which has become an essential tool in the legal industry.
“Today has been amazing,” said Destiney Parker, a second-year law student at Campbell Law School who attended the Raleigh program. “Because so many times, and I’ll just be very candid with you, you walk into a firm as prestigious as Parker Poe and you think to yourself, ‘Gosh, I hope these people can look past my skin color or that I’m a woman and truly look at my resume, my qualifications, and see me for who I am.’ And my confidence wasn’t the best in that. I’m from the Deep South.”
“But being here today,” she continued, “Parker Poe has really re-established in me confidence in the legal field and its ability to encompass a wide range of people, and that’s something I can appreciate, especially for a field I’m getting ready to dedicate my entire life to.”
Markietta Owens and Charles Sexton drove to the Raleigh program from Elon University School of Law, where they are second-year students.
“Thrive has pushed me to ask myself more questions and figure out what do I want to do, how do I want to impact the world, and how do I want to impact my community,” Markietta said.
“I’m a first-generation law school student,” Charles said. “Talking about law school and becoming an attorney to people who don’t understand is kind of hard. But you have people here that look like me and understand the journey and can give me information. They’ve pushed me to do more and not give up.”
In Columbia, second-year Charleston School of Law student Jakarah Porter said that Thrive was “very empowering.” She’s a graduate of a historically black university and said she wants to pay what she learned forward to other HBCU graduates.
“I feel like now I’m going to be another tool that can be used as a bridge or connector to those students,” Jakarah said. “I can let them know what’s on the other side, after taking the LSAT.”
More than 650 students have now attended Thrive since the program’s inception in 2007, back when it was called Life in a Law Firm. Carles Anderson, after a long day in the car and at Thrive, summarized her experience this way:
“It’s like bringing a light to a dark place, allowing us to see that while it may be difficult, it’s achievable,” she said. “I’m a first-generation law student, first grandchild to go to college at all. So just seeing people of color in power and doing things for the community, it’s beautiful.”
To learn more about Parker Poe’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, please click here.