BY HUGO TORRES
On Friday, April 16th, over a hundred elementary school children from Dorchester and Roxbury came to HLS to learn more about life at the Law School. Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) is a program that was begun by BLSA in 1993 and is currently headed by Earl Martin Phalen, an HLS graduate and recipient of the Gary Bellow Service Award. The BELL program, combined with the Learning and Mentoring Project (LAMP) that took place the following day, signified the strong commitment to service work that BLSA and the HLS community engaged in as part of “Springfest” weekend.
Saratu Nafziger, 2L, helped organize the events and was pleased with how much the children were able to do during their stay for BELL. “On their visit to campus the children were the juries in a mock trial (a child was put on trial for stealing a teacher’s pencil case), watched a skit about Brown v. Board of Education with following discussion of the decision’s impact, participated in a Street Law presentation, a tour, and a barbeque,” said Nafziger.
“In all it was an exhausting afternoon but very successful and worthwhile!” exclaimed Nafziger.
The Learning and Mentoring Project (LAMP) mentorship day, now in its second year, took place on April 17th, and “included workshops on career, fashion, nutrition and money management, and over 35 BLSA members participated,” according to Nafziger.
Working alongside local high school administrator Rasheed Meadows, BLSA began LAMP last year to connect HLS student mentors with Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School students. “The aim of this program is the attainment of equity in excellence amongst all of the students in Cambridge’s public high school, particularly (but not exclusively) the students of color who, as a group, have underperformed in a variety of areas,” said Nafziger.
But mentoring is only one aspect of the program. “In addition to nurturing the individual mentor/mentee relationships within the program, LAMP offers programs for all of the students involved,” said Nafziger, “which have included a music concert, Street Law clinics, a college application pizza party, basketball, and brain-storming sessions about educational policy.”
For Kevin Jones, a 2L who also helped organize the events, the LAMP program plays an important role in presenting positive role models to at risk youth. “[W]e started a mentoring program to address, among other things, the fact that roughly 40% of the Black, Latino and recent immigrant student population at CLRS (which, despite the broader demographics of Cambridge, make up 60% of CRLS’ population), are literally failing one or more courses,” said Jones.
“It goes without saying that this work has been incredibly rewarding for me,” said Jones. “Initially, I thought I just had to suck it up, put my public policy penchant on the backburner, and wait until I graduated from HLS to do something that may really bring about positive social change. Fortunately, I was proven wrong. Yes, it’s a struggle trying to juggle my class commitments, but in no way is it a zero sum game.”
Sartru and Jones both credit outgoing BLSA president Yohannes Tsehai with playing an instrumental role in making BELL and LAMP into successes. “[Under Tsehai’s leadership] we have expanded every single social change initiative that we are involved in,” said Jones, “directly reaching over 700 area youth with Street Law, establishing roughly 30 one-on-one mentoring relationships, and implementing group activities for approximately 475 elementary and high school students-250 from a LAMP concert with a Motown artist, 125 from the BELL Foundation, 30 from a College Application Pizza party, and 61 from Mentorship Day.”
Jones believes BLSA’s work has enabled HLS students to recognize that they can make a difference and he has high hopes for the future. “The next steps for BLSA are to utilize the incoming leadership of Kenitra Fewell (’05) to: (1) institutionalize what we currently do, (2) build working relationships with other groups doing similar work, and (3) get our classmates to see that coming to HLS is no reason to put your dreams and values on the backburner,” said Jones.
“Many of us wanted to come to HLS because we had dreams of changing the world,” said Jones. “Under the vision promoted by Yohannes, BLSA motto’s has become ‘so what’s stopping us.'”