Harvard Law Review Elects First Black Woman President

ImeIme Umana
By Mwabi Kaira

Twenty seven years ago Harvard Law Review elected its first black President. His name was Barack Obama. Presidents of the Law Review in the 130-year history have been white, male, female, Hispanic, Asian-American, black, openly gay and now for the first time, the first black women has been elected. Twenty-four-year-old ImeIme Umana, daughter of Nigerian immigrants was elected this past January by the review’s 92 student editors as the president of its 131st volume.

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The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native received a Bachelor’s degree in African American Studies and Government from Harvard College in 2014 and is a 3rd-year student at Harvard Law School as well as the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Being president is considered the highest-ranking student position at Harvard law school and pretty much guarantees you a spot at a law firm of your choice. In fact half of the current Supreme Court justices served on the Harvard Law Review, though none as its president.

Barack Obama with the Harvard Law Review Board in 1990 as the 1st Black elected President.

It is hard to believe that in 2018 there are still first African-Americans to do anything in the United States but this is a reality. The first women were not admitted to Harvard law school until 1950, and the gender gap at the school did not start closing until the late 1970s, when Ms. Estrich was elected president of the review. Minorities were only admitted after a diversity push in the 1970s as well; before 1950 Harvard was strictly a school for white men.

It is hard to believe that in 2018 there are still first African-Americans to do anything in the United States but this is a reality. The first women were not admitted to Harvard law school until 1950, and the gender gap at the school did not start closing until the late 1970s, when Ms. Estrich was elected president of the review. Minorities were only admitted after a diversity push in the 1970s as well; before 1950 Harvard was strictly a school for white men.

Sandra Bland who died in police custody
ImeIme’s fellow students all agree that it is her sharp legal mind, intense work ethic, leadership ability and generosity of spirit that catapulted her to the top. She speaks through the prism of her race and gender when speaking about law. She has black women who in recent years died after encounters with law enforcement on her mind, “I’m constantly reminded of people like Natasha McKenna and Tanisha Anderson and Sandra Bland, whose relationships with the law were just simply tragic,” she said.

And like Barack Obama, ImeIme Umana is choosing to go an unlikely path and not be like the vast majority of graduates of the nation’s top law schools. Instead of joining a high-paying corporate firm, her dream for now is to become a public defender, a goal she set after an eye-opening internship last summer in the public defender’s office in the Bronx. She plans to work this summer in Washington.

ImeIme said her goals as president of the review are to recruit a diverse set of editors, publish a diverse group of authors and basically get out of the editors’ way. She has lined up a clerkship for after graduation next year with Judge Robert L. Wilkins of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After that, she said, she is flexible on her route to becoming a public defender. 

So, become the first black woman President of the Harvard law review and still choose to serve your people in need by giving up the big bucks? How’s that for some black girl magic? We salute you ImeIme and can’t wait to see what you have in store for your career!

What do you think about Imelme's choice to become a public defender?
Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her athttp://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/

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