The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Black Pre-Law Student Association to create space for Black students pursuing legal careers

Photo Courtesy of Bea Calwitan/BPLA.

Jaleah Taylor was working as a Congressional Black Caucus intern with Congressman Jamaal Bowman over the summer when she said she received the news that the Supreme Court was striking down race-conscious admissions programs at higher education institutions.  

Taylor, the UNC undergraduate student body secretary, said the decision made her think about how it would affect her future law school admissions process.

“I just felt like with the recent affirmative action decision, it’s like we need to have a Black space for those that are interested in going into legal careers,” she said.

It was with a shared passion for law that Taylor, along with Taylah Smith and Joann Obioma, founded the Black Pre-Law Student Association (BPLA) over the summer. The BPLA is a student organization that aims to support aspiring Black legal professionals throughout their academic careers.

Their mission is to create a supportive environment for Black undergraduate students interested in the legal field that fosters professional development, social awareness and academic excellence.

Smith, who serves as the executive assistant to the student body president, said she became interested in law to make sure she could see the difference she was making in her community. During her first year at UNC, she said that while she had a desire to join organizations, there was a lack of representation and inclusivity at a predominately white institution like UNC.

“I wanted to be a part of an organization that uplifted the voices of African American students,” Smith said. “We have many things like that on campus such as BSM [Black Student Movement], but I knew that I wanted to do something specifically for my career.” 

Smith said that over the summer, she, Taylor and Obioma started to see the disparities in the representation of Black legal professionals. Smith, who has worked for the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. and as a corporate legal intern for Capital One, also said that she hasn't seen any lawyers who look like her at any of these opportunities. 

“I think that kind of struck me a bit,” she said. “When you start to look up the statistics of how many Black legal professionals there are in regards to how many white legal professionals there are, there’s a pretty big gap. I think a lot of that has to do with resources.” 

Smith said UNC BPLA aims to give students of color the opportunity to gain resources, develop professional skills and receive mentorship by current law students and lawyers. She said this will allow students the opportunity to be heard, seen and feel valued.

“I think that was a big part of why we decided to start the organization as well because our seats are already being numbered — they're being counted,” she said. “I think people definitely need those resources and that professional development to make sure that they are a competitive applicant.” 

Barbara Joy “BJ” Tillman, the co-director of civic engagement and outreach services for student government, said she is passionate about politics and that she believes this organization will be a "game changer". 

“Typically in African American families, there aren’t generations and generations of lawyers to depend on and rely on for guidance in this field,” she said. “This space that they've created is providing a formalized way for African American students to get that guidance and see if law school is even something for them.” 

Taylor said students can get involved by following UNC BPLA’s Instagram page, filling out their interest form and joining their GroupMe.

Their first event is a panel discussion scheduled for the beginning of October, she said, where Black students and faculty from law schools at Duke and North Carolina Central University are invited to discuss their experiences with UNC students.

While BPLA's founders are Black women, Smith said the organization isn’t just for Black students. 

“It’s for everybody,” she said. “Anybody who doesn't feel heard, seen, represented.”


@dailytarheel |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.