Black Law Students have success first time raising funds and fun



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Sweltering heat did not prevent Cooley students, faculty and staff from coming out to support the first annual Thomas M. Cooley Law School Black Law Students Association (BLSA) Street Carnival fund-raiser last Friday night.

At least enough people braved the summer weather to make the event a big success, with estimated proceeds of almost $2200, according to BLSA Vice President Amanda King.

The BLSA Grand Rapids Chapter was chartered in 2007 at Cooley, through the guidance of then-associate professor, now also Assistant Dean, Tracey Brame. The chapter’s first endeavors involved speaking out against youth and gang violence in the area as part of a West Michigan-wide campaign.

The chapter also holds an annual meet-and-greet to promote networking for students of color.

National BLSA is the largest student-run non-profit organization in the United States, according to its web site, with nearly 7,000 law students from over 200 chapters, including some in other countries.

Last Friday’s event benefited both BLSA and the popular local agency Kids’ Food Basket, which provides “sack suppers” for low-income students from 38 schools in Grand Rapids. These bagged meals, distributed through the teachers during the school year and by other means when school is out, may be the only source of food  outside of the school day for some students.

King was the primary coordinator of the carnival, which included low-cost food, performing profs, informational booths, children’s activities, a silent auction, and last but not least, a dunk tank.

Cooley faculty members took the plunge for the cause, although the hot weather made that a little more palatable. They included David Tarrien, Tonya Krause-Phelan, and Derek Witte. Those who thought they could hit the target and dunk the instructor, some possibly even with revenge in mind, paid $5 for three balls, which meant the event made a profit even though there was a cost to rent the tank.

The silent auction was also lucrative. Says King, “Everyone was excited with what they got -- it was such a success. The cop car ride-along was a big deal [see photo below], but our largest auction piece was actually the Themis Bar Review course.”

Themis had a table at the carnival, giving away information and reusable shopping totes. Themis Bar Review uses interactive and dynamic computer-based teaching methods to prepare prospective attorneys take pass the bar exam. More information is available at

About the auction, King added, “A lot of the professors overbid, I think one paid $150 for a $20 lamp, just to help out with the organization.”

Associate Professor Devin Schindler played guitar and sang familiar tunes with unfamiliar lyrics he had written, for example, “Big wheel keep on turnin’/At Cooley ya keep on learnin’.”

Brame, still involved with the organization, wowed the crowd as she lip-synced to I’m Every Woman. Judge Jane Markey, a long-time Cooley board member, spoke, as did Cooley Grand Rapids Campus Associate Dean Nelson Miller.

There was also an area where a licensed chiropractor gave massages, and thereby became very popular. “A lot of students experiencing stress, maybe due to finals, got the massages,” said King.

BLSA, whose new president is Shavasia Lanier, also made money from the very low-cost ($1 each) sale of lemonade, ice cream, pizza, and water, since all of the food items sold were donated.

The event took place from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the parking lot next to the United Way building on Commerce, across the street from the law school.

The BLSA chapter intends to continue designating Kids’ Food Basket for its donations. Kids’ Food Basket has increased the number of schoolchildren it serves greatly in recent years, but the need continues to outstrip its ability to serve. As of the 28th, the organization had served almost 30,000 sack suppers, which are nutritionally well-rounded, to students in July.

Kids’ Food Basket founder Mary K. Hoodhood was one of only thirteen people in the United States honored with a Citizens Medal from President Obama in 2010.

More information is available at

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