Spotlight: Black Law Students Association

Rachel Barnes ’20

The National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) was founded in 1968 by Algernon Johnson Cooper, the former mayor of Pritchard, Alabama, at the New York University School of Law. Today, NBLSA is one of the largest student-run organizations in the United States, comprising over 130 chapters. NBLSA chapters represent over 6,000 members and are organized into six regions. Through its national reach and local chapters, NBLSA strives to develop lawyers of tomorrow by sponsoring its prestigious competitions such as the Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition, the Nelson Mandela International Negotiations Competition, and the Thurgood Marshall Moot Court Competition at the NBLSA Annual Convention. NBLSA also implements community service and social-action initiatives in furtherance of its mission. 

The Virginia Law Chapter of the Black Law Students Association was founded in 1970 and formally chartered in 1996. Dedicated to the development of talented, engaged, and diverse attorneys, UVa BLSA sponsors various student support programs, community outreach projects, panel discussions, and receptions. The Virginia Law Chapter is a leading BLSA chapter, and in recent years, has been recognized as Regional Chapter of the Year five times and National Chapter of the Year three times. UVa BLSA also regularly sends its members to serve as regional and national officers, boasting three past National Chairs and various other Directors, Coordinators, and Specialists among our alumni. 

I personally decided to join UVA BLSA after visiting for Admitted Students Open House. Meeting so many impressive black law students inspired me and gave me hope. These accomplished and driven students are now my peers. 

This year, I am very excited to serve as the President of BLSA here at UVA Law. Serving with me this year are: Emmaline Rees, Vice President (; Alexis Wallace, Treasurer (; Tomi Olutoye, Secretary (; Lise Guerrier, Firm Relations Chair (; Moussa Ismail, Community Service Chair (; Michele St. Julien, Social Action Chair (; Courtney Davis, Education Chair (; Sarah O’Brien, Social Programming Chair (; and Jasmine Lee, Membership Chair (  

As we move forward into our 49th year, our Executive Board plans to reimagine BLSA’s programming in order to ensure that we not only maintain BLSA’s expected level of excellence, but also address the diverse needs of our members. To that end, our Chairs will be hosting a wide variety of academic, professional, and social programming designed to provide holistic support for our members as they navigate their law school journey.  

Additionally, we plan to host a number of social and service related events as a complement to our annual “Role of Non-Black Allies” event in order to better connect our members with supportive members of the greater Law School community. One such event is the Community Bridges 5K scheduled for Saturday, October 20, 2018. BLSA will be participating and volunteering this year and we welcome allies to join us! Anyone interested joining our team to run or volunteer should email our Community Service Chair, Moussa Ismail, at  

My personal goal as President this year is to do whatever I can to support my fellow board members and ensure that the black law students here at UVA feel safe and supported. Law school can be a challenging and occasionally isolating place by itself, but these obstacles are often compounded when only 6% of the law school looks like you; which is why BLSA and its mission are so important to me. The mission of the Black Law Students Association is to increase the number of culturally responsible black and minority attorneys who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. Both locally and nationally BLSA provides a haven of support and understanding for black students pursuing their legal education, and I hope to share this haven with the Class of 2021. 

Following the events of August 11 and 12, it was members of BLSA who reached out and took care of me when I suddenly was very unsure of my decision to come to Charlottesville. Thanks to their kindness and support I was able to overcome that trying time. UVA BLSA has a very special place in my heart and I am grateful and honored to serve as its President. I look forward to seeing what this year has in store and encourage all who read this to join or support our BLSA chapter because Black Lawyers do Matter. 

If you would like to learn more about BLSA and our events please sign up for our allyship listserv by emailing