Stepping Up to Service
Third-year law student Charis Redmond knew serving as vice chair of the National Black Law Students Association would mean frequent travel and meeting new people — but it’s also expanded her ability to reach out and help others.
As her term, which ends in April, draws to a close, the University of Virginia School of Law student reflected on her work in strengthening the organization’s advocacy efforts.
"I was fortunate to find an organization that supports my ideals," said Redmond, who also served as president of the UVA Law chapter of BLSA last year.
The National Black Law Students Association, which represents 3,000 members nationwide, counts among its goals articulating and promoting the needs of black students, fostering professional competence, and bringing about meaningful legal and political change that addresses the needs and concerns of the black community.
As vice chair, Redmond serves as an internal manager to the organization's executive board and oversees board relations while supporting the chair's oversight of NBLSA's business and activities. She evaluates national projects, leads the grievance committee and helps prepare for the national convention.
"NBLSA can be a training ground if you want to work in the nonprofit world or you want to be a corporate attorney who has first-hand experience, or if you want to understand how finances, business and strategic planning work," she said.
In the past year the organization has worked to address concerns about tragic encounters with police and other inequities in how minorities are treated by law enforcement and courts. At a meeting in St. Louis, NBLSA held a press conference at the courthouse at which the former chair of the National Bar Association, Pamela Meanes, called for systemic reform of the criminal justice system.
A September board meeting in Washington, D.C., coincided with the annual Congressional Black Caucus. U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the most-senior member of Congress, who represents the 13th District of Michigan, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by NBLSA representatives.
The group also organized a community service project with Judge Glenda Hatchett, council for Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Missouri in July 2016. Hatchett and Castille spoke to high school students in Washington, D.C., and held mentoring sessions with them that focused on developing their careers and being a positive influence in their community.
“Those were both really impactful events spearheaded by our officers and made possible by a team effort,” Redmond said. “The best part for me was seeing the successful execution of events our officers had been planning for months.”
To help the board continue to offer such events, Redmond started a survey system to evaluate the board’s performance and whether they have the tools and support to be effective.
"I'm proud of the board culture we've developed this year," Redmond said. "Our board has done a good job of being collaborative."
Redmond also worked this year with the director of programming to begin a fitness challenge for chapters. The challenge will be considered among the criteria for the Chapter of the Year award, a prize UVA Law’s chapter has claimed several times.
Serving NBLSA has allowed Redmond to make lasting professional and personal contacts.
"I've made some of the best connections — both friends and professional contacts — from being involved with BLSA,” Redmond said. “When I went to visit the firm I'll be working at in California, a friend I made through NBLSA looked after me and introduced me to others in the area. It's great to already know people."
Before Redmond relinquishes her role as vice chair, she’ll help plan the annual NBLSA convention in Houston, held in March. The convention features national competitions in advocacy, moot court, mock trial and negotiations; alumni, student and community service achievement awards; national chapter of the year awards; networking and career opportunities; and board elections.
Members may also have the opportunity to volunteer for a pro bono clinic in their spare time at the convention.
"We hope to partner law student members with attorneys to help local clients," Redmond said.
Throughout, Redmond has remained involved with UVA Law's BLSA chapter, and is mentoring a 1L this year.“I like to think of my life as being in service to others — helping make a path for success for those after me.” Redmond said. “BLSA has been the space where I carry that out. Our UVA BLSA alumni made a path for me. I owe that to someone else.”
Redmond received her undergraduate degree from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.