Raise the Black Bar launches second year of programming for Black high school students

Photo of Black lawyers and Osgoode alumni during a panel discussion at the 2023 Raise the Black Bar conference for high school students.

Raise the Black Bar, Canada’s premier program for Black high school students interested in law careers, celebrated its second year of programming Nov. 20, as Osgoode played host to more than 50 students from high schools across the Toronto District School Board.

The theme of 2023 conference was how high school students can use their participation in sports, entertainment and other extracurricular activities to build the skills they need for academic and professional success.

“It is important that we encourage our Black youth to see themselves occupying these spaces confidently and with their authentic selves,” said 2L student Chioma Oriuwa, co-ordinator of Raise the Black Bar and vice-president of the Osgoode Chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association, the program’s main organizer.

“Representation matters,” she added, “and through representation Raise the Black Bar shows students that they can excel in the legal profession and beyond.”

The event kicked off with a panel discussion featuring four accomplished Black lawyers and Osgoode alumni, all with impressive records of achievement in varsity sports and the entertainment industry. The panellists included Laura Wilson Lewis ’15, associate counsel with Warner Music Canada, Sabah Kalim ‘22, an associate with Toronto-based Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, Jonathan Wallace ‘22, an associate with Dentons in Toronto, and Massud Issa ‘23, an articling student with Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP.

Among their achievements, Lewis was a NCAA Division 1 volleyball player at Alabama A&M University, Kalim was an award-winning varsity volleyball player for York University, Wallace played for the National Basketball League of Canada, and Issa played varsity basketball for York. They noted during the discussion that their involvement in sports was critical in helping them build the resilience, discipline, communication skills and collaborative abilities they’ve needed to build their law careers.

The lawyer panel was followed by a panel discussion involving four Black law students from Osgoode: 3L student Ryan Ejim, a former player with the Canadian Elite Basketball League, 3L student and former competitive swimmer Imani Theodore, 2L student Johnson Amoo, a former player with Ghana’s U17 national team, 2L student Kris-Andre-Smith, a professional DJ, and 1L student King Beckford, a former player with Jamaica’s U17 national soccer team and a spoken word poet and rapper.

The conference also included a poetry performance, a DJ mixing demonstration and a motivational talk and basketball skills session conducted by Black-led not-for-profit Aspire for Hire (A4H).

During a break, Monique Willacey, a Grade 9 to 12 teacher at Riverdale Collegiate Institute, said her students were excited to attend the event. “For many of them, law school seems like an unattainable option,” she said, “so it’s really important for them to see themselves in these hallways and these buildings.”

Established in 2022, Raise the Black Bar (RTBB) is designed to break down barriers for Black high school students considering careers as lawyers and is the result of a partnership involving BLSA Osgoode, Canada’s largest BLSA chapter, Osgoode Hall Law School and the Toronto District School Board.

Later in the academic year, high school students will also be eligible to participate in additional events, including presentations from Osgoode administration and Black law students focused on the admissions process and what it means to be a legal professional. In addition, RTBB organizers are planning law firm and court tours to showcase a typical day in the life of a lawyer, judge or court clerk, a mock trial to help develop skills such as written and oral advocacy, and a panel event with select Black lawyers at the TDSB’s annual Know Your Worth youth empowerment conference, which is open to all Black students.