The Wake Forest University Black Law Students Association (BLSA) hosted its 28th Annual Scholarship Banquet last week, giving students, faculty and alumni a chance to celebrate African Americans’ many contributions to the law school.
The banquet, themed “Honoring Our Past as We March into the Future,” drew a crowd of more than 100 to the Benson University Center last Friday. The event looked to the past by paying homage to the BLSA’s 40-year history on campus and the future by awarding scholarships to three current law school students.
BLSA President Aretina Samuel-Priestley said the law school embraces diversity and as a result has seen a steady uptick in minority enrollment in the past two years. “They really undergird the minority students here,” she said. “It’s really a community within a community. It’s a family feeling.”
For the first time, Wake Law is being led by an African American dean, Blake Morant. Locally, the law school’s standing is bolstered by its prominent alumni, including District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield and Lisa Caldwell, executive vice president and Chief Human Resources Officer at Reynolds American and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
Caldwell, one of the highest-ranking black executives in Reynolds’ history, gave the keynote address at the banquet. She was introduced by Marsha Grayson, one of the four other black students in Caldwell’s law school graduating class.
Caldwell, a mother of two, said she doesn’t typically accept speaking invitations, but couldn’t resist addressing her fellow BLSA members.
“This event has a special place in my heart as I was part of the team of folks that put together the first BLSA banquet,” revealed the Burlington native. “We want to make sure that it continues.”
Caldwell, whose son Tyler is a third year JD/MBA student at Wake Forest, told current BLSA members to strive to be innovative.
“Be creative in everything you do,” she told the students. “There are a whole lot of lawyers in this world. The challenge for you is to figure out how to set yourself apart. The best way to do that is to think differently and to make bold moves.”
Caldwell also urged the group to make their personal well-being a priority. Maintaining a balance and making time for relationships, spiritual and social activities and physical health are key components in the “march” towards a successful future, she said. She reminded the group not to let their financial well being slide, either.
“Stop. Exhale and understand that you should not let your financial situation happen to you. You must take charge of it, the earlier, the better,” she declared. “I’m not talking about how much money you make – I’m talking about how much you’re spending.”
Hartsfield presented the scholarships to first-year student Ashley Waring, second year student Samone Ripley and third-year student Vernon Rio Kidd.
Professor Simone Rose was presented with the BLSA’s first-ever Legacy Award in honor of her service to the organization as a faculty advisor. Rose, an alumna of University of Maryland School of Law, said the energy of the BLSA students on campus was part of what attracted her to Wake Forest. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native has spent two decades as a member of the law school faculty.
“It flew by,” she said of her tenure at Wake. “It’s a wonderful honor, but you see farther because you stand on the shoulders of giants. I didn’t get here by myself; we all have worked together to continue the legacy of BLSA.”
The banquet raised more than $8,500 through ticket sales and donations, according BLSA Vice President Ashley Seawright, who chaired the Scholarship Banquet Committee.