David Carter, Judge John W. Carter ’82, Eric H. Holder Jr. ’76, Dean Gillian Lester, BLSA President Danielle “Reni” Benson ’17, Sharon Lockhart-Carter, and BLSA Treasurer George Tepe ’17 celebrated the establishment of three new Law School scholarships on May 19.
Just hours before this year’s graduation ceremony, the Columbia Black Law Students Association (BLSA) laid a foundation for the future, unveiling three new scholarships that will be awarded annually to students.
The scholarships will bear the names of three distinguished alumni: Eric H. Holder Jr. ’76, Robert L. Carter ’41 LL.M., and Constance Baker Motley ’46. Holder—the 82nd attorney general of the United States from 2009 to 2015—was the third-longest-serving attorney general in U.S. history and the first African-American to hold that office. Carter and Motley were both federal judges who, as lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, played key roles in landmark desegregation cases, including 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education.
In an intimate gathering that included Holder and members of the Carter family, Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, praised the BLSA students for their “remarkable act of will, coming together to do something that is so extraordinarily useful while you are still students.”
A Legacy for Others
“Your generosity creates a legacy for students who will follow you here at Columbia Law School,” said Dean Lester, who has sought to support and recognize the accomplishments of alumni of color.
Dean Lester noted the awards’ three namesakes are “heroes” at the Law School. “They are sources of inspiration and examples for us,” she said, “and they will continue to be so for years to come with their names attached to these scholarships.”
She extended special appreciation to BLSA Treasurer George Tepe ’17 and President Reni Benson ’17. Benson explained the push for the scholarship fund began 10 years before and finally bringing that plan to fruition was one of her primary goals as the head of BLSA. Each award will initially be set at $2,500. Benson listed other recent efforts to build a sense of kinship among BLSA members. “By establishing these scholarships, we hope to continue to strengthen our community,” she said.
On the Shoulders of Giants
“We stand on the shoulders of those who came before,” said Holder, who expressed thanks for the honor of the scholarship, as well as his inclusion in such significant company. “Judge Carter and Constance Baker Motley made my life—my legal existence—possible. I hope I’ve done some things that will help you all. You have an obligation for the next generation, as well.”
Holder would give that afternoon’s keynote address to the Class of 2016. He urged the BLSA graduates—“wherever it is that you go”—to think of themselves as agents for the public good and “a civil rights atlas,” whether they work for a corporation, as litigators, or in government. “There are always ways in which you can help and pay homage to Judge Carter and Constance Baker Motley.” Holder acknowledged the crucial role Motley had played in allowing his sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones to enroll as the first African-American at the University of Alabama in 1963.
“You will never know when you will be called upon do something that will help move this country forward,” he said.
Yesterday and Today
Before becoming a federal judge in 1972, Robert L. Carter was a chief strategist in the decades-long legal campaign against racial segregation in the United States.
“My dad and Judge Motley worked in the trenches, starting in the South in the ’40s and going all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they argued numerous cases trying to make things better, to gain equal access, equal rights, and justice for African-Americans and all people of color,” said John W. Carter ’82, a New York State Supreme Court judge in the Bronx. A $10,000 donation to the BLSA scholarship fund was made by Judge Carter, his wife, Sharon Lockhart-Carter, and his brother, David, a retired fixed-income portfolio manager.
“I have a jury deliberating now, but it was really important for me to come here and thank you all at BLSA for getting this off the ground,” said John Carter. “What it takes to succeed here at Columbia requires so much hard work and dedication—that you took the time out to provide these scholarships to honor my father, Judge Motley, and Attorney General Holder is quite an achievement. My dad would be so pleased.”
He proudly pointed out that his own son, Christopher Carter, has “recently become the third-generation Carter lawyer.”
Graduating students gathered around the speakers. Kevin Opoku Gyamfi ’16, who will be working at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., posed for a photo with Holder, while Eliazar Chacha ’16 spoke to his friends and fellow graduates Lauren McGlockton ’16 and Dorielle Obanor ’16. All three will be working at the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. In his light blue graduation gown, Chacha smiled. “It’s nice being able to end our time at Columbia Law School by honoring the African-Americans who paved the way for us,” he said.
Posted May, 2016
Updated January, 17, 2017