Law School’s Coalition for Social Justice Leads Black History Month Celebration

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Michael Eric Dyson, Fredera Mareva Hadley, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Annette Gordon-Reed, and Mark Anthony Neal are luminaries in academia and public intellectual life. Mary Francis Berry, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Angela P. Harris have blazed trails as Black women lawyers and legal scholars. In their books and other writings, Joy Angela DeGruy, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Ibram X. Kendi expose slavery’s enduring legacy in America, the depths of systemic and structural racism, and what it means to be anti-racist.

They are among the 28 Black intellectuals, academics, and scholars featured in a social media campaign produced by the Law School’s Coalition for Social Justice (CSJ) to celebrate Black History Month 2021. The project supports and amplifies the CSJ’s mission of empowering St. John’s Law community members as they work to transition the Law School from an inclusive institution to an actively anti-racist one.

“We’re hoping to accomplish a few things with this social campaign,” says Pharoah Sutton-Jackson ’21, president of the CSJ and the campaign’s lead producer. “Beyond highlighting and amplifying contemporary Black thought leaders from the worlds of research, scholarship, and intellectualism, who people might not be as familiar with, we wanted to circultae positive imagery of Black folks to counterbalance the violence and death that can inundate us.”

The social media effort also provides an opportunity to reframe Black History Month for a St. John’s Law audience and wider readership, Sutton-Jackson explains. “As we see it, the celebration of Black History Month shouldn’t be a tokenized fixation on Black Identity just for the sake of momentary deference or fleeting admiration,” he says. “It should be a framework for community building in the form of empowering Black communities as well as community building in heterogenous spaces, creating energy and deriving spirit from Black stories in the same way we do prototypical ‘All-American’ stories. Because Black stories are American stories.”

With that same community-building spirit and intent, the CSJ led another Black History Month initiative by working with the Law School’s executive leadership to design, produce, and distribute wristbands for students to wear in solidarity with, and support of, their Black peers. Jourden A. Taylor, who serves as the CSJ’s treasurer, conceived of and guided that effort.

“The wristband initiative was created out of a debt I felt we owed to our Black brothers and sisters as they prepare to take on a new stage in their life journey,” he says. “As I look around St. John’s Law, I recognize that there is still a mountain of work that still needs to be accomplished. But we’ve started that climb, and many of the ones leading it are our Black 3Ls. It was also created to show all of our Black students that they’re always worthy of love, and not just because a month says so.”

The wristbands are available to all St. John’s Law students at no cost by request, and the request form includes a space where students can share what Black History Month means to them and send a message of support to their Black classmates. Those messages, with anonymous attribution, will appear on the CSJ’s website soon. They are powerful and resonant with the CSJ’s changemaking cause:

“I stand by you during the victories in law school and beyond, but also during the hardships that both school and society continually throw at you. I hope we can stand together to fight for a more just and fair world.”

“Black lives are creative, talented, smart, insightful, important. Black lives are loved!”

“As Black law students, your experiences are valid, your successes are incredible, and your viewpoints and opinions are important. I hope that this institution and this country will continue to get better at acknowledging, supporting, and listening to the stories, experiences, struggles, hopes, and dreams of Black students and Black people living in the United States.”

Reflecting on the CSJ’s Black History Month initiatives, Sachika Yadav ’23 says: “To me, Black History Month is a time for people of all walks of life to come together and commemorate the Black leaders who fought for freedom and equality. And while we have come far in this fight, we still have a long way to go. This is a time to look back at history and learn from our mistakes going forward, and during this month we can trust that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and hope for the movement for future generations.”