Black History Month Spotlight: Thurgood Marshall Legal Society
Today, as part of observing Black History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society, the law student-led social organization committed to supporting and uplifting Black students seeking their legal education at Texas Law.
TMLS is driven by a mission “to improve the academic and social climate in Austin for Black law students, to apprise the Black community of the need for more Black attorneys, and to collaborate with organizations that are fundamentally committed to diversifying the legal profession.”
It’s one of Texas Law’s oldest student organizations, having been founded in 1970 to serve as the local chapter of the National Black Law Students Association. Fittingly, the group was christened in honor of Justice Thurgood Marshall, not only the nation’s first Black Supreme Court justice, but also the attorney for Heman Sweatt, the civil rights pioneer whose lawsuit against the University of Texas, the famous Sweatt v. Painter case, desegregated the university and the law school.
The TMLS student leaders this year are all 2Ls: Julian Humphrey-Davis (president), Jaria Martin (vice president), Isabella Parlette (secretary), Kayla Lowery (treasurer), and Chiamaka Okoye (parliamentarian).
We got some updates from Humphrey-Davis and Martin to see how the year was going and learn more about the TMLS.
Q: What are some of the activities, programs, or events that are being driven by TMLS this year?
TMLS is proud to be helping coordinate several events this year.
Thriving in Law School: The goal of this orientation program was to jumpstart the diverse students’ experience by exposing them to professors, study tips, and other helpful habits before school started. Along two other diversity student orgs (CHLLSA and APALSA), TMLS was involved with the planning and implementation process of the program.
TMLS X Barbri X Vinson & Elkins Exam Review: This workshop for 1Ls before their first round of exams was open to the entire 1L class. We were able to positively impact those who attended. We received good feedback from those who went to the workshop saying that it helped them prepare for exams.
Black Women’s Brunch: This Black History Month event celebrates Black Women in the legal field. We have invited black women who are undergraduate students, law students, legal professionals, and those interested in law. The invitation-only event (on February 18) is likely to garner close to 100 attendees.
TMLS Banquet: Our annual TMLS Banquet, which will be held this year in April, brings together alumni, current students, faculty, staff, and prospective students to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and to send off our 3Ls.
How does TMLS celebrate Black History Month? Are you celebrating?
Of course! We have an array of programming for our members. Unfortunately, the Angela Davis event that we had members going to on Feb. 1 got “iced out,” but we have Black History Month Trivia scheduled as an evening event for our members, Black Women’s Brunch as a weekend event, and our general body meeting as well. This year we’re also partnering with an organization called Sofar Sounds that curates intimate concert experiences around Austin to attend their Black History Month show. We have a membership with a wide variety of interests, so we plan a wide array of events and activities.
What advice would you give to a student considering on getting involved in TMLS?
Becoming involved in TMLS is fairly easy. During the summer, the Admissions Office provides a list of incoming 1Ls who have self-selected themselves as African American. We reach out to those individuals just before the start of school, so that they know they are seen and that we’re excited to see them on campus. Once the school year begins, we start our general body meetings in August. Those who want to be part of TMLS just need to pay membership dues to become an official member. As far as becoming involved in TMLS, I would encourage a person to reach out to or come up and talk to anyone in TMLS. We’re a very open organization and we want to celebrate Blackness in every shade.
What value is added to the law school experience by being involved in TMLS?
TMLS can connect Black people with other Black people. The law school experience can be rather solitary for Black students who don’t have a feeling of community. Our job on campus is to ensure that individuals who have the shared experience of being Black at UT Law can connect with one another and feel a togetherness that trumps the feeling of isolation. Additionally, when there are incidents that happen on campus, we are a home base where our Black students can go knowing that they’re going to be seen, understood, and heard.
Tell us how TMLS builds community with its members.
We have a couple of different layers of community building. First, our 2Ls and 3Ls mentor our 1Ls. This gives our 1Ls guidance and our 2Ls/3Ls a sense of responsibility for those who are coming after them. Second, there is a shared experience of being a Black student matriculating through law school, and that brings up shared conversations and shared moments. Finally, there’s also genuine friendship. I think that we truly like being around each other. We genuinely like interacting with each other so it’s easy to be in a community where you feel like you are among friends. Some of my best friends are TMLS members. When we host events, it doesn’t feel like work; it feels like I’m just going to hang out with my friends.
What TMLS program or accomplishment are you most proud of?
First and foremost, our goal coming into the year was for our group to feel more like a tight-knit community. I think that we’ve been able to do that through our programs and through the attention we’ve dedicated to making sure each member feels heard. We think the program that we’re most excited about and most proud of is one that is still to come: the Black Women’s Brunch that we’re hosting. It’s an event that creates space for Black women to feel celebrated and appreciated. It will be one of the largest celebrations of Black women the school has seen. We’re really excited that we are the ones who have created this experience.
Is there/are there any faculty member(s) at Texas Law who have been a particularly good resource for TMLS?
Shavonne Henderson, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equality, Inclusion, and Belonging, has been an indispensable asset to our organization. She has institutional knowledge from being a dean at the law school. She has historical knowledge from once upon a time being a member and serving on the executive board of TMLS. She is a quick thinker. She’s a strategist. She has a heart for students and is full of empathy. She really wants the best for us and has a vision of what will steer us into the future. We’re just thankful that she is our advisor.
What opportunities do you think TMLS should pursue in the future?
TMLS is seeking to expand our reach beyond the walls of the law school and grow deeper connections with lawyers, community partners, and firms. We’re working this year to create the pathway for future TMLS groups to better interact with and form strong connections with groups outside of the law school.
Humphrey-Davis is a native of Nashville who earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of the South and his master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University. He also serves as a Texas Law ambassador and is on the staff of the Texas Journal of Civil Liberties and Civil Rights. After graduation in 2024, Humphrey-Davis plans to obtain a clerkship, then start his legal career at a firm in Washington, D.C.
Martin did her undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon and earned a bachelor’s degree in Family and Human Services with a double minor. She is a dual-degree student with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, a Dean’s fellow, and the staff editor of the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights. After graduation, her plan is to clerk and work at a law firm in Washington, D.C., with a long-term career goal of becoming a judge.