Random Reflections: When You’re The Only One in The Room

Guest blog by Courtney Boykin, 3L at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

As an African-American woman, I am accustomed to moving throughout social spaces that are predominately white. Growing up in relatively small West Tennessee town, my schooling atmospheres were typically predominantly white. Moving off to undergraduate school at a state school in East Tennessee, the demographics didn’t change. Now, in law school, it’s a bit better, but it’s still predominantly white.

I’ve always been aware of my schools being “PWIs” (Predominantly White Institutions). In fact, whenever I went into a classroom or a school event, I, almost instinctively, canvased the scene to get a quick overview of the racial breakdown. It just became a norm for me.

Recently I sat down at a dinner with a group of area attorneys interested in my particular interests. They’d invited a few students to attend the dinner, and, not being one to give up a free meal at a fancy restaurant, I decided to accept their invitation.

The dinner went on without a hitch. The conversation was light-hearted with advice about the legal profession being thrown here and there.

About 45 minutes into the dinner, once all of the guests arrived, I did my typical canvas of the room. At my table of 11, there was one African-American, me. When I glanced around the entire restaurant, there was one additional black person, a man sitting by himself at a table that was slightly behind our table reading what seemed to be a newspaper of some sort.

It was in that moment that I started to feel what I always knew. The majority of lawyers aren’t African-American, Latino, or even Asian. It’s no secret that most lawyers aren’t people of color. Interestingly, however, instead of my “loneliness” in the room making me feel sad or defeated… or even honored and proud… I felt a sense of responsibility.

I felt like my occupying of the space was not for my own gain. My being in the room was, in part, to make room for others who do look like me.

At first glance, it seems like such a daunting responsibility…if not impossible altogether. Honestly, I don’t know where to begin, but I do know this much. Something has to change and I won’t stop…or feel comfortable until it does. Not only that…but…in my heart of hearts I know that I’m up for the challenge.