On February 7, 2022, the DU Sturm College of Law’s Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) marked the beginning of Black History Month by celebrating the past and future achievements of Black women. The CWBA joins BLSA in honoring Black women’s many contributions to the law and civic life.
BLSA president Camille Moore, a 2L, introduced the event’s moderator, LaQunya Baker, a criminal defense attorney. Ms. Baker is the vice president and president-elect of the Sam Cary Bar Association, is involved with the Colorado Bar Association, and teaches at DU Law.
LaQunya Baker, Vice President, Sam Cary Bar Association
Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the nine Black students that integrated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, was the event’s featured speaker. Those students’ experiences helped energize the Civil Rights Movement and tested the strength of Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Ms. Walls LaNier recounted her time as a member of the “Little Rock Nine,” remembering the endless verbal and physical harassment she and her Black classmates faced outside and inside the school; she was called names, spat at, tripped, knocked over. But despite that terror, Ms. Walls LaNier knew that she had a right to be at Central High, until then an all-white school. After all, the Supreme Court had said as much in Brown. And her parents had taught her that she needed to be prepared for the change that was to come. So she enrolled at Central High without her parents’ knowledge.
Reflecting back on the experience, Ms. Walls LaNier said that she would do it again. The real heroes, in her view, were the parents and families of the Little Rock Nine, who endured physical abuse and threats in their own homes. Since college, Ms. Walls LaNier has been a Colorado resident. In the 1960s, Colorado was very different from Arkansas; Ms. Walls LaNier recounted being astonished that a police officer happily gave her directions. She was a Denver resident when mandatory busing began to integrate Denver Public Schools. Busing, she thought, was an okay means to an end–school integration–but she was surprised at how long it lasted.
Ms. Walls LaNier has remained an activist and an educator–on top of her day job as a real estate broker. She has sat on countless foundation boards and frequently speaks to students. Ms. Walls LaNier told Ms. Baker that she is inspired by today’s young people and by how George Floyd’s murder galvanized mass activism. In response to Ms. Baker’s final question, Ms. Walls LaNiever encouraged young people to continue to speak up and young lawyers to work for organizations like the NAACP LDF, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood. It was an inspiring conversation with a true pioneer.
Deborah Richardson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Colorado
Following Ms. Walls LaNier’s discussion, Ms. Baker invited two other groundbreaking Black women to the stage for more dialogue and for audience questions. Deborah Richardson is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Colorado. Senator Janet Buckner represents House District 28 (southern Aurora) in the Colorado House of Representatives. They are both the first Black women in those roles. In response to questions about increasing the representation of Black women in leadership roles, Ms. Richardson and Senator Buckner urged the audience to follow their passions, be civically engaged, and lift up other Black women. Ms. Walls LaNier joined them in emphasizing how important voting is. All three women recounted the unique challenges of being the “first” in the spaces they occupied–how visibility as a Black woman has required accepting endless criticism and being held to higher standards.
Senator Janet Buckner, Colorado District 28
In one of the most inspiring moments of the event, Ms. Walls LaNier, Senator Buckner, and Ms. Richardson discussed how they take care of themselves and stay grounded. They highlighted the importance of finding partners and friends who will remind you when to step back, the centrality of their faith, and the value of knowing yourself. Music and massages help too, Ms.Walls LaNier pointed out.
Many thanks to DU’s BLSA for organizing this energizing, impactful event and inviting the public. CWBA members interested in more events marking Black History Month should check out the Sam Cary Bar Association’s events listing. And our learning and celebrating isn’t limited to February. Black history is American history.
Isabel J. Broer is an Assistant Attorney General in the K-12 Education Unit of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. She previously clerked for Justice Monica M. Márquez and Judge Christine M. Arguello. Prior to attending Harvard Law School, Isabel taught ninth grade algebra in the Denver Public Schools. She enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and reading in her free time.