Members of the Black Law Students Association at the University of Virginia School of Law returned to Cape Town, South Africa, to aid residents displaced by apartheid for the organization’s annual service trip.

Jasmine Alves ’19, Princelee Clesca ’20, Catherine Guerrier ’21, Lise Guerrier ’20, Moussa Ismail ’20, Toccara Nelson ’19, Alicia Penn ’19 and Doriane Nguenang Tchenga ’21 collectively volunteered 792 pro bono hours during their winter break in January.

Clesca checks out the view at Boulders Beach, which is famous for its penguins.

The students partnered with London-based Norton Rose Fulbright’s pro bono team and learned about the firm’s efforts to ensure former residents of District Six receive government reparations. The neighborhood was destroyed and dispersed during apartheid, a governmental system of racial oppression that was dismantled in the early 1990s. The group also gave presentations after researching refugee law and worked on projects to benefit ongoing pro bono efforts. On the final day, students broke into groups to present different legal topics to local high school students.

“For me personally, it was really interesting to learn how race has impacted South Africa — the similarities to the U.S. and the differences,” said Alicia Penn ’19. “The similarity — being that black people halfway across the world were also treated poorly — reminding me how human racism is.”

Outside of their legal work, the students took in the sights and landmarks, including a half-day excursion to Robben Island, where political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, who went on to serve as the nation’s president, had been incarcerated.

Kloof Street House
The group had lunch at Kloof Street House during a free day. 

Last year, BLSA students also traveled to Cape Town. They interviewed displaced families and prepared affidavits in a lawsuit seeking government relief.

Each year, BLSA organizes a service trip abroad, and students apply for a limited number of spots. Past destinations have included Tanzania and Uganda. Those who are accepted receive paid travel expenses and accommodations through BLSA’s relationships with participating law firms. In order to be selected as a destination, a country must be predominately black, English must be spoken and a sufficiently developed legal infrastructure must be in place.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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