Taz Jones ’20 Builds Community From Afar

Grad Helped Create Program for Classmates, Local Restaurants During Pandemic
Taz Jones

“If I can one day be even half the mentor that Professor [Kim] Forde-Mazrui was for me, I’ll consider my life a success,” Taz Jones said. Photo by Julia Davis

June 12, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, University of Virginia School of Law student Taz Jones ’20 helped create Lawhoos Eat Local, a community partnership to provide meals to his classmates while supporting locally owned restaurants in Charlottesville and nationwide.

At UVA Law, Jones served as a Student Bar Association senator during all three years of his schooling, and as Programming Committee co-chair for his second and third years. He also served as Lambda Law Alliance career development and alumni relations co-chair, and maintained active involvement with The Innocence Project at UVA Pro Bono Clinic, most recently as director of the program’s fundraising and outreach team. In addition, Jones was an executive board member for the North Grounds Softball League.

The Montgomery, Alabama, native graduated with a degree in political science from American University.

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Jones talked about his path to law school, the Lawhoos Eat Local program and how one professor became his mentor.

Why law school?

I spent almost seven years between college and law school working in Washington, D.C., first as a paralegal and then, for most of that time, in various communications roles focused on advancing clients’  interests in a legislative, media and public-facing capacity. Along the way, I also co-founded a fantastic nonprofit, JusticeAid, whose mission to use music to support our nation’s hardest-working legal justice charities, allowed me to combine my interests in communications and concerts to benefit another major interest: civil rights. Each of these opportunities also involved working closely with attorneys, which, in turn, enhanced my understanding of the legal issues that piqued my interests.

As I navigated all of this, I began to wonder how I might get more involved. Communications careers definitionally involve sticking to a script — advising but mainly managing someone else’s message. I wanted to see things, especially the legal complexities, from the inside as opposed to the outsider perspective that was part of my prior jobs. When I called the UVA Admissions Office out of the blue one spring afternoon in 2017, I thought I might get a few brief answers to some common questions. Instead, I spoke at length with Chris Colby about my entire life story. I’ll never forget the advice that he gave me. I submitted my application the following morning, certain that UVA Law was exactly where I wanted to be.

Tell us more about Lawhoos Eat Local.

The many different crises that emerged amidst the COVID pandemic required some pretty dramatic pivots for every role in which I was serving during my 3L year, particularly as co-chair [with Read Mills ’20] of the SBA’s Programming Committee. Our committee maintained a budget to ensure we could provide meaningful, in-person engagement opportunities for our classmates, but all of that went out the window when stay-at-home orders entered the picture. Lawhoos Eat Local emerged as an idea while Read and I were visiting the Outer Banks during spring break, unsure of what was to come for our classmates but feeling confident that creative solutions would be key to continuing the committee’s success.

Read and I recognized that our committee’s budget might sit around unspent unless we adjusted our operations to comport with a very different landscape. We settled on Lawhoos Eat Local as a way to work within existing rules while still keeping our committee active. Over the course of six weeks, including and going beyond the final exams period, Lawhoos Eat Local provided free meals for about 600 UVA Law students, while also contributing around $10,000 in support to locally owned restaurants nationwide.

In Charlottesville, we partnered with a range of local businesses to provide their staff with financial support while connecting our classmates through free meals. Likewise, students who returned home could qualify for meal reimbursements when ordering from their favorite local restaurants. To say that Lawhoos Eat Local was a learning experience wouldn’t do it justice. Not only did Read and I hone our ability to manage a multifaceted campaign, but our classmates volunteered their time to help too, from contributing to a related social media campaign to delivering meals to students whose mobility was impacted by COVID. I can safely speak for Read as well when I say thank to you everyone who helped out. We’re so grateful for your support.

Describe your most interesting academic experience.

This is a very difficult question to answer because I’ve had so many, which is all thanks to the incredible academic environment that we’ve cultivated for ourselves at UVA Law. But to pick a favorite or most interesting, I think that I need to trace my steps from a classroom during my spring semester as a 1L student to a much smaller seminar room during my final semester of law school. Each stop along the path involved the same professor, Kim Forde-Mazrui, whose mentorship and support is something that I’d more closely compare to a father figure than just a professor. I would not be who I am today without his instruction and encouragement.

KFM, as students like to call him, taught me Con Law when I was a 1L. As a 2L, he taught me Employment Discrimination. And in my final year of law school, I took his courses Racial Justice and the Law in the fall and Race and Criminal Justice in the spring. Each of these classes involved conceptual building blocks that cumulatively constructed the worldview that I’ll bring with me to every next stop after Charlottesville. If I can one day be even half the mentor that Professor Forde-Mazrui was for me, I’ll consider my life a success.

What’s something your classmates don’t know about you?

I gave serious thought to art school before I decided that my chances were probably better gambled on a political science degree in D.C. I’ve never missed a rent payment, probably because I’m a better writer than I am a visual artist. Either way, I haven’t lost my interest in the arts.

What’s next for you?

Up next is a yearlong clerkship with Chief Judge Pamela Reeves, in Tennessee’s Eastern U.S. District. I’m lucky to count at least two of my classmates as literal neighbors in the courthouse. I’ll have my classmate Mark Russell as a co-clerk and my friend Hana Crandall right across the hall.

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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