COVID-19: Community Updates and Resources
Rising 2L Dedeou Diarra was looking forward seeing the court system in action—in person—as a summer law clerk with the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.
COVID-19 changed that.
Diarra completed most of the role’s duties—including legal research and chronology—from his apartment. But he still came away with a great experience learning about the county’s criminal court system.
In addition to opportunities to learn about the role of an assistant district attorney, Diarra also gained information on initiatives such as Clean Slate, aimed at providing support to young people to keep them out of the prison system, and programs that provide alternatives to incarceration. .
“It goes to show that people who have drug habits, they’re not criminals per se. They are subject to the circumstances and the situation they are dealing with, and it’s OK to realize that and give them a second chance,” Diarra said. “Sometimes, incarceration may not be the best route in terms of helping them overcome that problem.”
Diarra knew he wanted to pursue law school from a young age. In middle school, he lost a friend to gun violence. He decided he wanted to be a part of the solution and serve as a positive role model for others.
“I couldn’t really do anything at the time and that’s a terrible feeling to have,” he said. “Usually when something happens, you do everything to the best of your ability to make a difference. But I was young, and I thought, ‘What can I do?’ That’s when I had the idea of becoming a lawyer—if I’m able to help bring justice to those families who have suffered senseless violence, then that would be the best thing in the world.”
When the time came to choose a college, the Albany area appealed to him. It was close enough to home in New York City but offered a quieter place to focus on his education. He completed his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in business finance at the College of Saint Rose. He later earned a master’s degree in legal studies at Albany Law School, graduating in 2019 with a concentration in government affairs and advocacy.
Then it was time to start on his J.D.—a promise to his younger self that he was determined to keep. He considered a few New York City–based law schools. But the Capital Region had already served as a perfect spot for his higher education journey—so he stuck with Albany.
Being more deeply involved in the full law school experience drew him to pursue a second Albany Law School degree—especially the opportunity to make an impact with student organizations like the law school’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) chapter. After completing a term as treasurer, he’s looking forward to the incoming academic year when he will serve as the organization’s vice president.
“It’s taught me a lot about myself, how to survive on my own. College is about going to courses, learning your career path and all of that. But personal experience is needed too,” he said.
Though the fall 2020 semester will operate differently, Diarra said he’s looking forward to the challenge of involving students who choose to participate remotely and continuing the conversation on racial justice with the entire law school community.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to be legal practitioners and practice the law. I think it’s required to have the conversation of bias and the conversation around racism within the laws we’re learning about,” he said. “It’s about acknowledgement, awareness, and education.”
This summer gave Diarra an overview of criminal law, but he also remains enthusiastic about corporate law and looks forward to upper-level courses that may spark another unexpected interest.
“If I limit myself now, I may block myself off from being able to explore the various areas of the law,” he said. “This is going to be my career for a long time.”
Wherever he lands, he hopes to continue to influence change and inspire others.
“I want to be that difference maker,” he said.