SEI students got a chance to learn more about the judicial system at the organization’s July Kids Talk at Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Judge Adrienne Nelson hosted the discussion, which featured Black professionals from all across the legal spectrum. Each person explained his/her background and what they do in their current jobs. Following the presentations, students got to ask a couple of questions and tour the courtroom.
Kiosha Ford, an SEI alum and paralegal on the panel, emphasized that the kids should take advantage of opportunities. Even though she decided she wanted to be a lawyer in 3rd grade, she says she didn’t find herself until college. She didn’t utilize things like debate team when she was in high school and by the time she went into law school, it was a decision based on faith.
None of her parents graduated from college and she came from a single parent household with little money. Still, she says she didn’t let that stop her from achieving. Ford was one of four Black students in her law school program. Despite telling stories of being singled out, she emphasized rising above the negativity.
“Portland is so small,” she says. “You guys have to dream and be bigger than this. And if you are going be here, do something great.”
Some students were interested to hear the panel’s take on whether race plays a part in the criminal justice system.
Both Nelson and Judge Kenneth Walker stressed that race needs to be talked about.
“Race is an issue in America all the time,” says Walker. “This is not a color blind society.”
He went on to say that if he was representing a person of color, he would ask potential jurors if they had any past incidents with people of color that would make it impossible for them to be fair or objective.
“It’s an issue but I’ve found that once people start talking about it and realize that this person in the courtroom had nothing to do with whatever happened to you then they can be more fair and objective,” says Nelson. “Bring it out then sometimes people bend over backwards to prove they’re not racist.”
Rukaiyah Adams, another SEI alum who manages capital market investments at The Standard, told the students to look at being Black as an advantage. She uses her hyper visibility as a platform.
“I walk into a room with 500 white faces, nobody is going to forget me,” says Adams.
While noting that Blacks are unfairly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, she says that the skills and determination it takes to overcome the obstacles that face at-risk Black youth can work out in the long run.
“And the truth is, in order to succeed at that level you have to be better and smarter and more active so by the time you make it past that obstacle and you get out in the field, you’re better than your competitors,” says Adams.