Op-ed: Our work to increase the number of Black lawyers

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Senator Cory V. McCray, 45th District in the Maryland State Senate, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City.

By Senator Cory V. McCray

Last week marked the end of the 2021 Legislative Session. Since then, I have had time to reflect on some of the consequential work we’ve done, passing legislation that increases public safety and health while investing in education. The late Congressman Elijah Cummings, whom I deeply admired, often said: “Our children are the living messengers we send to a future we will never see.” Keeping this in mind, I remained intentionally focused on the legislation I introduced and supported. Each year that I go to Annapolis, my goal is to uplift people and create opportunities for those who have historically been at a disadvantage. Senate Bill 526  (and House Bill 1268) – the Legal Education Success Collaborative – is one piece of legislation that invests in the next generation of leaders, sending them into a future where justice is more equitable than we may ever see. 

The Legal Education Success Collaborative, which I had to honor to work with Delegate Shaneka Henson of Annapolis on, ensures that HBCU graduates who endeavor to attend law school have adequate resources to excel. The legislation mandates the Governor to appropriate state funds, which will be matched by state law schools at University of Baltimore (UB) and the University of Maryland (UMD). Our goal with the legislation is to increase the numbers of Black people entering the legal profession, and what better way to do this than by establishing a pipeline from our stellar HBCUS. I know the impact of HBCUS: my wife Demetria, who is an alumnae of Coppin State University, won’t ever let me forget their commitment to educational excellence either. 

At a time when Black people attending law school in America represents less than 10%, this legislation is vital to diversifying the profession. As we reimagine our criminal justice system, we need Black lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and public defenders at the table. We have seen the impact that Black lawyers have – we need to look no further than to Baltimoreans such as the late greats Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Thurgood Marshall, and Elijah Cummings – and it is time to increase representation to show our children, our living messengers, what’s possible.

I could not be more honored to represent my community in the Maryland General Assembly. While this Legislative Session was one unlike any other, we addressed tough issues regarding police reform, HBCU funding along with increasing parity in the legal profession. I look forward to working with Dean Ronald Welch from UB and Dean Donald Tobin of UMD, whom will be spearheading the Legal Education Success Collaborative.

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This was never a question of “Does Maryland need more lawyers?” But rather, “How do we increase the number of Black lawyers, so that we can send more successful, Black messengers into a future we may never see?”

Cory V. McCray, Baltimore 

The writer represents the 45th District in the Maryland State Senate, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City. He also serves as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. He can be reached by email at cory.mccray@senate.state.md.us and followed on Twitter @SenatorMcCray.