BY TAREAH IKHARO
The Harvard Black Law Students Association’s annual spring conference event took place March 4-6, drawing nearly 200 participants and panelists from around the country. The conference, which focused on empowering individuals to effect positive change within and outside of their communities, was orchestrated by conference co-chairs Lynna Cobrall ’12 and Candace Moss ’12 and kicked off with a spirited panel on social justice activism featuring, among others, Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy, Arkansas State Representative John W. Walker, and Racialicious blogger LaToya Peterson.
Saturday’s packed schedule began with two panels, the first of which focused on “Effective Leadership in Addressing Educational Disparities and Reforming Schools.” Moderated by Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune ’12 and Charles Hamilton ’13, a Teach for America alum, the panel brought together five experts in the field of education including, among others, Tim King, founder and President of Urban Prep Academies, a network of all-male public charter schools in Chicago; Dr. Michael T.S. Wortoson, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for High School Equity; and Dr. Jeff Howard, founder and president of The Efficacy Institute. While each panelist approached the discussion from a different perspective, all were in agreement that there is much more to be done on behalf of the nation’s children. Said Hamilton, “Perhaps the most meaningful takeaway for those in attendance is that true educational reform must focus on the actual needs of students, their motivation, and ability to learn.”
The second panel presented a dialogue between Asad Rahim ’12 and social media guru Omar Wasow on the issue of “Blogging While Black.” Wasow, the affable, effervescent founder of the social networking site Blackplanet, discussed the ever-changing role of social media in individual’s lives. Noting that “slack-tivism” — the feeling that one has fulfilled his or her duties as a social activist by simply tweeting an article or sharing a link via Facebook — is an unsettlingly pervasive trend among the younger generation, Wasow provided recommendations on how best to use the Internet for both social and financial gain. Audience members seemed to soak up Wasow’s words of wisdom, with one woman even seeking advice on how best to turn her love of blogging into a profitable venture. Remarked Wasow bluntly, “Ideas are cheap. It is the execution that matters. It is about the time on task.”
Hip hop and fashion mogul Russell Simmons made an appearance at the Youth Summit event held in the Ames Courtroom to promote his book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All.” Though an hour and a half late for his panel discussion, Simmons took a few questions from local area youth, addressing everything from his spirituality — “I tweet about fifteen prayers a day” — to his take on carving out one’s place in the world, saying, “You can find a passion serving people that’s new and original.”
The conference was capped off by a banquet dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club, with a special keynote address by Ted Wells ‘76, a prominent criminal attorney and current partner at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Wells, known as much for his high-profile clientele — which has included everyone from I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer — as for his stable of victories, spoke of the trials he faced as a new lawyer and the often uncertain path he took to becoming one of the most sought-after white collar defense attorneys in the nation.
In all, Spring Conference was deemed a success by organizers and attendees alike. “I really appreciated our theme of empowerment,” said Leah Watson ’11, BLSA’s external vice president. “To actually make a difference in this world, we need tools of change, and I believe the conference delivered in addressing that need.”