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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

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October 4, 2022

Afrofuturism and the Law Symposium’ imagines the future of the Black legal field

Manoo Sirivelu
Panelist Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., discusses the future of public education during the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society’s Afrofuturism and Law Symposium at the Jamail Pavilion on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. Left to right are Afrofuturism and Education panelists Dean Demetria Frank, Paige Duggins-Clay, Andrew Hairston and moderator Dean Shavonne Henderson.

The Thurgood Marshall Legal Society hosted a symposium at the UT Law School, celebrating Black legal scholarship on Saturday.

The symposium, called ‘Afrofuturism and the Law,’ explored the future of the Black legal field with three panels on policing, public health and education. The Society’s UT Chapter President, Natalya Baptiste, said the symposium is a higher education space for students, professors and practitioners interested in planning this future.

“I want people to share in the optimism because I think, right now, there’s so many questions, there’s so many unknowns, there’s so much negativity,” Baptiste said. “There are so many brilliant legal scholars who are doing the work and deserve the recognition and deserve to be praised, and I wanted to create a space for that.”

The Thurgood Marshall Legal Society is the Texas chapter of the National Black Law Students Association. The Society, awarded Chapter of the Year for 2024, hosts a biennial symposium.

The symposium opened with keynote speaker Bennett Capers, the Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Law at Fordham Law School, who popularized the idea of Afrofuturism in the law in his 2019 article “Afrofuturism, Critical Race Theory, and Policing in the Year 2044.” Capers said he started thinking about the concept when he first watched the 2018 Marvel movie, “Black Panther.”

“Until very recently, most artistic visions of the future had been majority white,” Capers said during the panel. “Yet, demographic shifts project that America is going to tip from being majority white to majority-minority by the year 2044. It makes sense to consider how Black and brown people have imagined the future.”

The first panel, centered around policing and moderated by Capers, featured Adeloa Ogunkeyede, the Travis County chief public defender, UT Law Professor Lee Kovarsky and Janel Venzant, an attorney from the Travis County Public Defender’s Office. Tionna Ryan, the vice president of the Society, said this panel responds to the 2022 symposium about police brutality. 

“We’re literally picking up the conversation where we left off,” Ryan said. “Imagine the 2022 symposium being a rallying cry for justice, and now we’re looking towards the future and what we can imagine the future to look like.”

The public health panel was moderated by Jaria Martin, a third year dual degree student getting her JD and master of social work, and included Loyola Law Professor Priscilla Ocen and Boston University Law Professor Aziza Ahmed. Ocen and Ahmed discussed their projects and the fight for reproductive justice. 

“Reproductive justice is a movement listening to not only Black women but Latinos, Asian American women, Indigenous women,” Ocen said during the panel. “Listening to those who are closest to the problem as those who are best positioned to tell us about solutions.” 

The final panel focused on public education and was moderated by Shavonne Henderson, the Society’s faculty advisor and a UT law professor. The panel, including Paige Duggins-Clay, an attorney for the Intercultural Development Research Association, Texas Appleseed Attorney Andrew Hairston and University of Memphis Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Demetria Frank, discussed the future of education, school policing and safety. 

“We have never in this country realized the full potential and beauty of equal educational opportunity, especially for Black people and for other systematically marginalized communities,” Duggins-Clay said. “A big part of our approach to this work really is envisioning: ‘What does that look like?’”

Students, professors and guest speakers kept the conversation going at a mixer following the panels. Samantha Morales, a first year law student, said although the symposium had hard conversations, it left her optimistic. 

“I’m hopeful that our next generation of lawyers and legislators will be able to overcome the obstacles that our ancestors have and will be able to truly make a better future for Black people and for minorities as a whole,” Morales said.

Editor’s Note: The first paragraph of this story and headline were updated to better reflect the event description. Additionally, a source’s year and program was updated. The Texan regrets these errors.

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