DIVERSITY CORNER Diversity and Inclusion in Mentorships JAMEESHA ROCK I did not always want to be an attorney. I vividly remember that my career goal was to be a fashion designer/stylist. I was inspired by black individuals like Dapper Dan and Kimora Lee Simmons—designers who impacted the fashion world despite their skin color. However, I realized by the end of my junior year in high school that the future job prospects in fashion were not only slim but also hard for people like me who did not have many connections with people in power, let alone in the fashion industry. I decided to talk to my career counselor at my school and inquired as to what career best suits me. I was the eldest child of a single mother, and I was never pushed to pursue a certain career. I did not have my mother in my ear encouraging me to become a doctor, nurse, politician, or attorney. As I was having a deep discussion with my counselor about my interests, he asked me a simple question: “What makes you happy?” I replied that I am happiest when I help people, but I have a fear of blood so being a nurse would not work. My counselor chuckled and asked if I had ever thought of being an attorney. I reflected at the time on how my highest grade was in civics. In addition, during debates, all my classmates on my team wanted me to talk in front of the class because of how well I articulated our position. I had not put much thought into being an attorney before because of the lack of role models in the field who looked like me. I did not know any attorneys or anyone who attended law school, so I honestly did not believe pursuing law was obtainable for a young black woman such as myself. Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. In 2017, I enrolled in the pre- law studies program, and I joined the moot court team my first year there. The first night of practicing our arguments in front of attorneys changed my life. In the midst of several white male attorneys, sat one black female attorney. She was gracious, yet she looked stern. The questions she asked the students had them fumbling for the correct answer. I was in awe of how powerful she looked and the confidence she exuded. I knew in that instant I had to talk to her. I wanted to know what she did to get to where she was and what it was like as a black woman to be an attorney. After my class was dismissed, I rushed to her and introduced myself. She handed me her business card with a smile and told me to contact her if I had any questions about law or law school. A couple months later, I reached out to this attorney, Jean Marie Middleton. I asked her if she would consider being my mentor and guide. She agreed and we met at a local Starbucks. Since our first meeting in 2017, Mrs. Middleton has been my mentor and a tremendous guide to me. She has helped me to find numerous connections in the legal field, encouraged me to never give up on my goals, and has just been a walking inspiration that black girls like me can be an attorney. I know this mentoring relationship has helped me to get to where I am today. I currently work as a paralegal at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, after having decided to delay law school for a year. During this past year, I applied to four Despite my doubts, I decided to take a couple law schools, and I was accepted to all four of law classes during my undergraduate schools with scholarship offers totalling studies at Palm Beach State College. I met over $60,000.00 and counting. a couple of attorneys that were adjunct professors and aced every law class I took. I do believe my achievements were made However, it was still discouraging not to not only because of my hard work but also meet any black or female attorneys. I felt because I had a mentoring relationship like the legal field had limited opportunities with someone who looked like me and who for minorities and that I would have to fight knew the struggles I faced. When I was my way into law school with more hard discouraged, my mentor gave me words of work than my non-minority peers. encouragement and affirmation. She knew it was not easy for women of color to enter After I completed my associate degree and succeed in the legal field, and she set at Palm Beach State College, I went on to up a platform so I would have connections pursue my bachelor’s degree at Florida and be able to meet more diverse groups PBCBA BAR BULLETIN 11 of attorneys. Now, I can proudly say that I know more than one black attorney and more than one female attorney. I have also found more mentors along my journey and I am grateful for each of them. I am about to begin the next step in my pursuit to becoming an attorney, but the impact Mrs. Middleton and the other attorneys have had on my life will be lasting. I highly encourage attorneys, who are willing, to reach out and be a mentor to pre-law students before they enter law school. Many students lose hope before their real journey begins. By having a legal mentor who understands them and their goals before they apply to law school, these students will have the support and the tools they need to be successful and to help diversify the legal field. Jameesha Rock is a paralegal at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. She plans to begin law school this fall, and she credits the mentoring relationships she developed with female attorneys and attorneys of color for helping to get her to where she is now—on the road to becoming an attorney. Jameesha may be reached at [email protected]. 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