Temple’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association capped its celebration of Black History Month with an extraordinary gathering of leaders spanning its almost half-century of service. Dean Gregory Mandel welcomed back to the law school Dominique Moore LAW ‘16, now an Assistant Public Defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia; Yvelisse Pellotte LAW ’14, now a staff attorney at the Education Law Center; Judge Lucretia Clemons LAW ’99 of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; Norris Benns LAW ’89, Vice President, Legislative & Government Affairs, Pennsylvania Health and Wellness at Centene Corporation; Prince Thomas LAW ’76, Counsel and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee at Fox Rothschild; and Carl E. Singley LAW ‘72, who served as Dean of Temple Law from 1983-1987 and is currently Counsel to Tucker Law Group.
The panel discussed both the genesis of BLSA at Temple and their experiences as lawyers of color. Dean Singley shared an account of what he and other Black and Latino students experienced at Temple Law in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based in part on recently recovered minutes from BLSA’s first meetings. His description of both entrenched racism and courageous allyship marked the period as a significant chapter in the history of the law school. “It’s my honor to offer thanks to Dean Singley and to each of our panelists for your courage, your conviction, and your willingness to get into, as John Lewis says, ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,’” remarked Dean Gregory Mandel. “Temple Law School is a better institution and a better community because of your efforts.”
The profession has also been made better by their presence and their efforts. Each of the panelists reflected on their experiences in practice, which uniformly included both persistent bias and the support of an exceptional community. Judge Clemons, who was the first Black woman to become a partner at Ballard Spahr (and who still encounters bias on the bench, expressed enduring optimism: “I’m not discouraged,” she said. “I know great things can happen.” Prince Thomas encouraged the students in attendance to believe in themselves: “A large part of the practice of law,” he said, “is to not let someone get in your head and destroy your confidence. Stand up for yourself! You’re not here by accident.”
Current BLSA president Chanelle Jones concluded the evening, remarking, “My cup has been filled. It’s good to learn about our history, but also to be inspired about how far we’ve come – and how far we can go.”