Raise the Black Bar as a pathway to legal education for Black youth

By Lincoln DePradine

Colleen Russell-Rawlins

Education officials of York University and Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are praising a collaborative program that they describe as “groundbreaking’’ and “unique’’.

Raise the Black Bar (RTBB) is intended to “break down barriers to legal education’’ for Black youth attending high school.

“I’m optimistic that Raise the Black Bar is going to help create a whole new generation of Black law students and Black lawyers. I wish I had this when I was in high school,’’ said Bunisha Samuels, president of the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University.

RTBB was launched last month-end at a ceremony at York’s Keele Campus.

The program was initiated by BLSA members in an attempt to bridge the gap in accessing a university education; and, specifically, to create more career opportunities in the legal profession for Black students.

RTBB is open to all Black students across the TDSB’s 110 secondary schools, with an emphasis on those in Grades 10, 11 and 12. Students, the program promises, will learn about diverse career opportunities in law, pathways to law school and financial aid.

Bunisha Samuels

In addition, mentors will be involved to help students “navigate barriers unique to Black students and will debunk myths about law, law school and legal careers. They will also coach students on how to build a winning resume and cover letter, and how to network in professional and academic areas of interest, prior to entering law’’.

“Raise the Black Bar will open the door to a new generation of talented lawyers and we can’t wait to witness their amazing achievements,’’ said Mary Condon, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School.

“Osgoode’s goal to be the most diverse, accessible law school in Canada is integral to our vision for excellence. We’re proud and very excited to continue that tradition by partnering with Canada’s largest school board to create the Raise the Black Bar program,’’ Condon said. “Like the TDSB, we believe to our core that diversity is our strength and the path to true excellence in the legal profession and beyond.’’

TDSB, which serves about 235,000 students throughout Toronto, is delighted at the partnership with Osgoode Hall Law School that produced the RTBB program, said Colleen Russell-Rawlins.

“This initiative is an incredible opportunity for Black secondary students to learn more about the diverse career options in law, enhance their understanding of legal education and pathways, and connect directly with Black law student mentors,’’ according to Russell-Rawlins, director of education at TDSB.

She also reiterated TDSB’s commitment to “improving the experiences and outcomes for Black students’’.