Student Spotlight

‘An Amazing Experience’: Saddler ’18 Coordinates Regional Convention for Black Law Students

Racquel Saddler '18

By Chris Colton
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This past year, in addition to her studies and commitments as a student leader, Racquel Saddler '18 served as coordinator for the 50th Annual Northeast Black Law Students Association (NEBLSA) Convention, an intricate multi-day program held across various venues in Albany, N.Y.

The convention was highlighted by the NEBLSA Awards Gala on Saturday, January 27. Serving as the mistress of ceremonies, Saddler presented the organization's Legacy Award to A.J. Cooper—founder of the National Black Law Students Association—and introduced the night's keynote speaker, United States Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

The gala also included remarks from two Albany Law School Trustees: state Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba '01, president of the Albany County Bar Association; and Mayor Kathy Sheehan '94, who issued a proclamation declaring January 27 as National Black Law Students Day in the City of Albany.

"It was truly an amazing experience," said Saddler, president of the Albany Law School Black Law Students Association chapter. "I have known Congressman Jeffries since I was a child through the work my mom does; however he has never seen me in my capacity as a law student and as BLSA President. So that experience was really special for me. I was able to not just recite his bio, but I was able to speak from the heart about the inspiration, trailblazer, pillar of his community, and true pioneer that he is."

She added of Cooper, "They always say that before you move forward, it is imperative that you look back. It was refreshing to reflect and see the fact that A.J. Cooper's vision turned into a legacy. The National Black Law Students Association is now the largest student-run organization in the nation to uplift, empower and inspire African American attorneys, who are very underrepresented in the legal field."

"It was revitalizing to be able to sit in on panel discussions and network with so many change agents, exemplary leaders, and speakers for justice—that was so rewarding for me and an experience that I will never forget."

The Northeast Black Law Students Association region comprises over 1,100 student members at 31 law schools. Over the course of five days, convention-goers participated in moot court and mock trial competitions, networking events, a career expo, and other programs including a "Know Your Rights" training. Saddler helped organize plenary sessions, panels, and workshops covering topics such as diversity initiatives, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and alternative paths to the law, and free speech in the Trump era. Three Albany Law School professors—Anthony Paul Farley, Christian Sundquist, and Donna Young—presented the critical race theory analysis entitled "True Advancement of African-Americans: Are We Stuck in the 'Sunken Place' and What Can We Do?"

"The convention experience for me was very exciting," Saddler said. "First and foremost because it was held in the City of Albany, which I love so much. The support from Albany Law School, faculty and staff, and our alumni was unmatched. It was great to work with the Albany Law School BLSA members as well as students from schools across the Northeast Region to figure out the most important things facing us as students and attorneys-to-be, and bring them to the forefront with scholars and professionals who have dedicated their work and scholarship to these issues.

"It was revitalizing to be able to sit in on panel discussions and network with so many change agents, exemplary leaders, and speakers for justice—that was so rewarding for me and an experience that I will never forget. And while planning the convention that is precisely what I wanted each and every attending member of the organization to take away from it."

Saddler is an alumna of the University at Albany, where she majored in Political Science with a minor in Criminal Justice at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. As an undergraduate student, she interned at the White House in President Barack Obama's Office of Presidential Correspondence. She also interned at the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo '82, the King's County District Attorney's Office, and for state senators Velmanette Montgomery and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of New York's democratic conference.

The New York City native chose to attend Albany Law School in part because of the opportunities offered in the state's capital. At Albany Law, she was one of the inaugural Government Law Center Fellows, interned for Justice Ryba, and is currently a senior editor for the Albany Government Law Review in addition to leading the law school's BLSA chapter. After graduation she plans to pursue a career involving policy analysis and legislative advocacy—a path in which she will be able to use her law degree to continue to advocate for the underserved and underrepresented.

"I would love to stay involved with BLSA as an alumna," she said. "I do plan to stay in Albany post-graduation and I think it is important now, more than ever, to work with Albany Law School, which has been doing a phenomenal job at instilling in our young people the notion that not only is there black excellence in the legal field, but there is a network right at their fingertips that only wants to see them succeed and be the absolute best they can be. I was fortunate enough to receive this kind of support from my personal mentors: Hon. Christina Ryba; Jennifer Richardson, the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association president; Judge Teneka Frost; and Shontell Smith, who is Director of Counsel and Finance at the New York State Senate."

Saddler added that she would like to continue to host conferences, panel discussions, and do outreach to inform students about what is going on in the community at large.

"I want to show them how they can help and be an asset," she said.

This March, Saddler will be honored as a trailblazer by Church Women United for her community service work in Brooklyn and Albany. Locally, she performed community work for Mayor Sheehan last summer; volunteered at various city events as a member of the Tulip Court; showed solidarity with members of a labor strike while speaking out in support of a resolution that would protect future hotel contract-signers; and participated in "Know Your Rights" trainings at the Salvation Army.

"And in Brooklyn," she said, "as an advocate for increasing the number of minorities in the legal profession, I have a few high school student mentees who are interested in law school. I plan on organizing a trip for them to come to visit Albany Law School later in the semester to see what it's like and to consider the 3+3 program with the University at Albany."

Racquel Saddler and Rep Jeffries