Reviving Support for Black Law School Students

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Scale of justice and several legal books

Revitalizing a critical space for advocacy and support, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) College of Law is championing diversity and representation within the legal community.

The Black Student Law Association at the University of Nebraska College of Law was revived in 2022 with the help of Lionel D’Almeida (right of center) and other law students. (Photo courtesy of UNL College of Law)

A chapter of the National Black Law Students Association, the BLSA provides academic and professional support to Black law students. The UNL chapter was reactivated in 2022, thanks to the efforts of recent graduate and outgoing BLSA vice president Lionel D’Almeida, who recognized the need for more open discussion about race and ethnicity in legal contexts.

“It was important to give Black law students an organization that they know will champion them, especially given the low percentage of Black lawyers,” D’Almeida said in a statement.

The representation of Black lawyers in the legal profession remains disproportionately low. According to the American Bar Association, only 5% of lawyers in 2023 were Black, despite Black Americans making up 13.6% of the population. This statistic has grown fractionally from 4.8% in 2013, highlighting a significant gap.

D’Almeida emphasized the importance of representation, especially in criminal law, where Black individuals, particularly men, are often defendants. “Having an attorney who looks like you is crucial,” he said.

BLSA’s initiatives involve connecting UNL law students with prominent Black attorneys, community leaders, and legal advocates in Nebraska and throughout the U.S.

For example, in 2023, BLSA hosted Shakur Abdullah, a restorative justice coordinator with the Juvenile Justice Legal Clinic at at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and senior restorative justice intervention trainer/ facilitator and outreach specialist for the Community Justice Center in Lincoln. Abdullah, who was first sentenced to death for first-degree murder and later had his sentence reduced to life without parole at age 17, “took advantage of habilitative opportunities (personal, academic and vocational) to be released from prison better not bitter,” he wrote in his autobiographical statement.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that life sentences for minors were unconstitutional, and Abdullah was resentenced and released on parole. He uses his story to highlight the experiences of Black men in the criminal justice system.— particularly as it relates to juvenile justice — and urges law students to consider social justice issues when they enter the legal field.

“If I can help maybe spark some interest in their mind about working on some of the social ills that exist, I think it’s important for me and others to come and do that,” Abdullah told a local news station after the event.

Recognizing the importance of reaching potential law students early, BLSA also organizes outreach to underrepresented middle and high school students to offer education, mentorship, and support throughout the process of pursuing a legal education.

“It’s important to start early in order to make people understand that it’s possible and that they would be supported here,” D’Almeida said.