For the thirteenth year, the Wynne Home Arts and Visitor Center hosted “Empty Bowls,” a worthy fundraiser that not only supports the arts, but which also fights hunger. Spearheaded by Wynne Home Staff Sarah Faulkner and Leara Phillips, the fundraiser brought in more than 100 people, raising more than $2,500 for the Senior Center in the non-profit’s efforts to fight hunger. For the LEAP Ambassadors, it is always a pleasure to help with a Wynne Home event, especially for such a worthy cause.
Approximately 200 people participated in bowl-making, either by actually working with Leara Phillips, ceramicists, or by working at Cork & Canvas to paint a bowl. Some of these bowls were selected for the silent auction, which are sold off to high bidders, with the funds also going to the Senior Center’s “Meals on Wheels” program. Other bowls were given to patrons who made a donation for lunch. The main lunch sponsor was HEB, with 5 Loaves Deli, City Hall Cafe, Carbonero Chicken Rotisserie, and Floyd’s on 14th also donating some great soups!
For us, the tasks were pretty simple. We ladled soup or otherwise helped with food provision, we greeted people, and we cleaned up a bit. It was a great learning experience, too, not just to see how the fundraiser works, but also to meet new people. With three of the Ambassadors being freshmen, most people in Huntsville are new to us, and we had the privilege of meeting City staff (Aron Kulhavy, City Manager; Rick Rudometkin, new Deputy City Manager; Tammy Gann, Economic Development/Special Projects Director; Tourism Manager, Tracy Rikard; Jessica Lacy, Visitor Center Coordinator; and, of course, Cultural Services Manager Sarah Faulkner; and Wynne Home Events Coordinator Leara Phillips), elected officials (Councilmember Pat Graham), and many other delightful people.
And not only did we see some wonderful bowls…
…but we also had a chance to see some great art in the Wynne Home’s main gallery. John Rodak’s work is currently on display, and the exhibit showcases his intricate and wonderful art work.
But perhaps our favorite aspect of this event is that a LEAP Center intern originally brought this event to Walker County some thirteen years ago. For almost every year since then, LEAP Ambassadors have volunteered for the event in some capacity, a tradition we hope continues for many more years.
Many thanks to the Sarah Faulkner and Leara Phillips of the Wynne Home Arts & Visitor Center and all of the sponsors for putting on another great event and helping a great cause!
For the 14th years, the LEAP Center has offered students the opportunity to take a real LSAT, without the stress and pressure of a score that counts. This is a crucial part of getting to law school: learning your current score so that you can develop a study plan that will get you a score that you want.
This semester, we had forty-three students sign up for LSAT, and we returned to an in-person (with masks and social distancing) format. Thirty-seven of those students showed up on a Saturday morning to take a four-hour test!
The real LSAT has been modified somewhat as a result of COVID, but beginning in August 2021, students will take four sections on test day: Analytical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and an Experimental Section. Finally, students will also do a writing sample, although this does not need to be done on test day (it can be submitted about a week before or after).
There are more than 200 law schools in the US, and about 170 of these have a solid or strong record of students passing the bar and gaining employment. To get into one of these latter schools, students need an LSAT of about 150 or higher, with the very highest-ranked law schools looking for LSAT scores of about 175 or more.
As you might expect, the Mock LSAT scores, on average, aren’t as high as many students would like. That’s not a huge issue, because we encourage students to take the Mock LSAT “cold,” with no pre-studying. Once they get their baseline score, they can begin studying, take the Mock LSAT each semester, track their progress, and then as their official test date draws near, they can assess whether they want to take an LSAT Prep Course.
Over the past decades, these efforts have paid off. For the past dozen years, SHSU has consistently ranked in the LSAC’s “Top Feeder Schools” to law schools. Out of the 2,775 or so four-year degree-granting institutions in the US, SHSU ranks around 110 (top 4 percent) as a law school feeder. It’s one of the many programs that have grown in stature at SHSU, and we are excited for the students who are in law school now and those who will be enrolling soon!
Shortly after spring break, the PLS met up for our second meeting of the Spring semester. This meeting was special because this was the first meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic that darkened the world back in 2020 that we had our first in-person guest speakers.
We had the great honor to have Walker County District Attorney Will Durham and his first assistant Stuart Hughes come and visit our organization and give us insight on what it is like to work in the DA’s office and what kind of cases they encounter.
Will Durham graduated in 1989 from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in management. After that, he went to law school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio in 1992. Former D.A. David Weeks hired Durham out of law school as a misdemeanor and juvenile prosecutor. Soon after, he was promoted to felony prosecutor, where he handled many types of felony cases in district courts.
Durham practiced private law for many years with attorney Mance Michael Park in a firm called Park & Durham (now known as Park Law Firm) located in Huntsville, TX. Durham was sworn in January 2019, after the previous DA was in office for almost twenty-five years.
Durham explained that the D.A.’s office gets about 2,000 cases per year, which the office goes through to determine which cases to take to a grand jury, which then determines which cases should be prosecuted.
Nine out of the twelve jurors have to say yes for the case to go to court.
After he explained the process of how cases get an indictment, he went through his staff and the positions that exist in a District Attorney’s office, which range from positions that require a law degree, to others that require nothing but a good work ethic.
They then answered some questions about jobs and how we might work our way up in positions, and gave us more knowledge of everything each position does. When they were done with their portion of the information about the office, they showed us a slide show with the “10 Commandments of Cross-Examination” as well as clips from films featuring cross examination.
When they wrapped up their presentation, they watched two groups go through a cross-examination scenario and they gave us great feedback.
We are very appreciative of their spending an evening talking to us.
To end the meeting, our president, Quinn, did some housekeeping alongside with our VP of Finance Leslie Canchola Rangel, who discussed our finances. Quinn discussed our last meeting of the semester, the mock trial, which will be held on April 21st.
With a random number generator in hand, Val Ricks, Professor at South Texas College of Law, introduced himself to 16 pre-law students who registered to attend a virtual Mock Law School class on March 3, 2021. The class was taught by Professor Val Ricks, whose qualifications include a Juris Doctorate from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, legal work as an associate attorney with Kirton & McConkle, and almost 25 years teaching at South Texas College of Law. The Mock Law School class is a unique partnership between SHSU’s Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics and South Texas College of Law.
The students came to class prepared; they had already read and briefed the case which involved a contract dispute between the singer Mariah Carey and her stepfather. After Professor Ricks recited the facts of the case, he used the random number generator to select a student to discuss the legal issue of the case. Employing the Socratic Method of questioning, Professor Ricks skillfully led the pre-law students through the analysis of the legal issues in the case, the rule of law, and how the court applied the rule of law.
In evaluating the Class, several students commented that the Mock Law School Class gave them an opportunity to experience the real feel of law school while still being an undergraduate. Jessica Cuevas was grateful for the “amazing opportunity for a glance into the future of how my law school experience may be like regarding study habits and classroom settings. Attending the Mock Law Class solidified my decision to attend law school.”
In working through the logic of the Mariah Carey case, Professor Ricks homed in on some specific word choices in the opinion and mentioned synonyms for the legal terms. In this way, Ricks alluded to how language and law are closely linked.
After discussing the case, Professor Ricks asked some thought-provoking questions regarding the policies underlying the rule of law in the case and whether the court reached the correct result. In addition, like a question on a final law school exam, Ricks presented a hypothetical set of facts and asked the class to analyze the issue of the hypothetical based on the facts. Then, using the Mariah Carey case as precedent, he asked how a court would rule on the issue in the hypothetical case and what reasoning the court would use.
Professor Ricks followed up with some valuable advice for the pre-law students. He explained that law school is about studying old settled law so that as a practicing attorney, you have confidence in applying the law correctly to new fact patterns presented by clients. He suggested that students in law school take the Socratic questioning by law professors in class as a challenge and an opportunity to have a conversation with the professor. Ricks emphasized that the process of learning the law and applying it is more important than the specific legal cases. Yvette Mendoza commented, “ I loved this last part of the class because I was able to ask the law professor questions about law school.”
Professor Ricks advised the students of the importance of clearing everything off their calendar and devoting time to law school, especially in the first year of law school. Ruona Odharo asked a question about paying for law school. Ricks pointed out that South Texas College of Law strives to keep tuition as low as possible.
In response to Yvette Mendoza’s question on whether a student needs to go to a prestigious law school to get a good legal job, Ricks said that every law school teaches the same material using the Socratic Method, and that “excellence depends on you.” A great lawyer can come from any law school.
This February, we had our first LEAP LIVE of the semester with Veronica Lockett, whose compelling story was an inspiration to all of us.
One of 13 children, Lockett spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, eventually went to prison, and has since graduated from college, earned an M.A. in Social Work, and recently graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.
Ms. Lockett’s mother suffered from mental health issues, having ended up in foster care and been the victim of a number of assaults while in the system, and found solace in drugs and abusive relationships, and therefore struggled to raise her children.
Lockett recalled for us a tense and scary moment from her childhood. She told us that she once watched her mother’s boyfriend at the time hold her mother in the air and threaten to throw her off of the balcony. She said that she and her siblings slept in the bathroom that night in fear of him.
After years of falling behind in school, living off of food stamps, and being hungry to the point of malnourishment, Lockett entered the foster care system at the age of 9, where she would live in a number of foster care families and group homes.
She explained that she learned about college from one foster care family, and decided she definitely wanted to go to college while with another family. When she started college, she found she struggled to find a place to live.
After transitioning through a number of poor living situations, she ended up in an abusive relationship. While dating this individual, Lockett picked up several charges, and was frequently in trouble with the law. She described an instance when the man held her down in the bathtub and told her he had a gun to her head. There was another time that he choked her until she was unconscious.
A few times, Lockett retaliated, cutting her abuser with a knife and burning him with an iron. Eventually, she had had enough. When she was tired of fighting, she ended up calling the police. Knowing she had a warrant out for her arrest for previous charges, she turned herself in to get away from him. Lockett wound up in prison for two years.
She then described her prison experience, which was tough for us to hear. We learned that the facility she was originally kept in was called the “dog pound,” which was where she was held until the prison assigned her to a specific unit. Once she was placed in a unit, she was placed on the “hoe squad,” where she and other inmates were required to do manual labor.
In spite of the challenges prison presented, including violence from guards and stints in solitary confinement, she was eventually able to get to know her mother, who was moved to her unit, and in the cell next to her.
Lockett told us that they finally reconnected, and she asked her mother all the questions she’d had over the years, about why her drugs and alcohol was more important than her children. Her mother explained that she was trying to cope with the pain of her mental health issues through drugs and alcohol.
After she got out of prison, Lockett went on to finish college, earn her M.A., and would eventually apply to law school at University of North Texas, which was the only school in Texas that would admit her in spite of her criminal record.
She then gave us some advice regarding law school, reminding us that it can definitely be a challenge, and we might not all get the best grades, but that does not mean we should give up. She told us to figure out a system of studying, get to know people who have similar priorities as us, and get as much experience as we can.
Lockett now works at Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit which strives to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential.
After the LEAP LIVE, a few of us were fortunate to have a one-on-one with Ms. Lockett, where she answered our more specific questions. We want to sincerely thank Ms. Lockett for sharing her time and honesty with us as we learned about her inspiring story of overcoming obstacles.
I think it best to close with a quote from Veronica Lockett which I found very moving:
“I think that the legal profession is all about helping people, it’s just how we choose to help people.
After the winter storm delayed our first meeting of the Spring 2021 semester, we were at last able to meet. We had an excellent turnout, with 20 new members joining, bringing us to a total of 50 PLS members this semester!
President Quinn Kobrin introduced the officers to the new members and kicked off the meeting.
After a brief overview of how the Texas court system works, we were introduced to our guest speaker of the evening. We were fortunate enough to have Marcy Greer, an appellate attorney currently employed at Alexander, Dubose, & Jefferson. Greer joined our meeting to share with us some insight about her career and what it takes to be an attorney.
We learned that she studied History and French at Emory University where she graduated with her B.A. After starting law school at the same university, she decided to uproot and move with her fiancé to study law at the University of Houston Law Center.
Next, we learned exactly what being an appellate attorney entails. Mrs. Greer’s job is to find potential errors from trials which could warrant an appeal, such as inadmissible evidence being presented to the jury or improper jury selection being practiced. Greer will work with a client’s team during trials to guide them and tell them what might be grounds for an appeal, which she said is one of the best parts of her job.
She explained that a large portion of her job is also to persuade, by a written brief and possibly oral arguments, an appellate court to evaluate the trial court decision and to reverse or affirm that lower court decision. Mrs. Greer informed us that we can watch these arguments via Zoom and YouTube to see how the cases work and how the decisions are made.
Toward the end of her interview, she gave us some tips about law school. She said it might be in the best interest of a student who feels unprepared for law school to take a gap year and work, which can give the student the chance to mature and experience a professional environment. She told us to try our best in law school; to find a great study group with the same mentality and goals as you, go to class prepared and to treat law school as a job, because you will likely succeed and have better options when it comes to job opportunities if you do.
Once her speaking portion was complete, she did a Q&A with Pre-Law Society members:
Q: When did your daughter take her gap year?
A: She took it after she graduated from undergrad and before her first year of law school. During the break, she decided to start her own baking business which has taught her a bit about responsibility. She loves it.
Q: What can you tell us about your experience working in a clerkship?
A: Clerking for a judge is a lot of hard work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Greer explained that the judge she clerked for would not tell her what she expected, nor did she want to be told what people thought she wanted to hear. Greer was given complete autonomy to research cases and present her honest answer to whatever case was at hand.
Q: When is the best time to seek out Clerkships?
A: Try to find and apply during your 2L year.
After the Q&A, we thanked her for her information and advice. To finish off the meeting, President Quinn discussed upcoming events, including a Mock Trial that is expected to occur at the end of the Spring semester. The PLS members were stoked to sign up. This gives us all a great opportunity to study our roles and put them into action, all the while learning about the legal process! Our next meeting will be on March 24th, 2021.
Inauguration Day: The Peaceful Transfer of Power (Kiara Williams)
This inauguration day involved a figurative transfer of power inasmuch as President Trump was not on hand to officially “hand over” the reigns of power. Nonetheless, Joe Biden assumed the Presidency at noon on January 20th, giving an inaugural speech calling on the nation to unify. Biden emphasized the difficulties in our history, particularly regarding equity, but equally emphasized the barriers that have been broken.
As he touched on these topics, President Biden also referred to Vice President, Kamala Harris, highlighting the advances made by women, and to Martin Luther King to highlight progress made in racial equality.
In doing so he indicated how things can change, how the nation has progressed, and how the Vice President of the United States- the first black, South Asian, and female VP in American history- is a living testament to that progression. This momentous event, regardless which side of the aisle one claims, is a statement to women and people of color everywhere that there is power in our voices and we are capable of exceeding our ancestors’ wildest dreams.
In the President’s speech he addresses the societal issues that recently arose: such as the pandemic and its effects on the American people as well…
…as the economy; the attack on the Capitol 14 days prior, and the racial tensions that have plagued this country from its inception. As he addressed these problems, he promised to work to resolve these concerns and advance the nation in his tenure. Biden’s speech continuously emphasized unity and progression of the nation, and with his Vice President, he intends to repair the country for all Americans.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to be there in person, but we made the most of it by watching it in a collective group.
It just wasn’t quite the same as the last time we were there!
Melrose Plantation—Ilexus Williams
After nine days on the road, the LEAP students have come to our final destination: The Melrose Plantation. The Melrose Plantation is located in Natchitoches Parish in north central Louisiana, which is the largest parish in Louisiana. The Melrose Plantation history began in 1742 when Marie Thérèse Coincoin was born a slave into the plantation of Louis Juchereau De St. Denis, who is the founder of the city of Natchitoches. When Marie was approximately 26 years old, St. Denise leased Marie to a French merchant by the name of Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. Marie and Pierre Metoyer formed a relationship, which resulted in 10 children. Marie never returned to St. Denise. Instead, Pierre Metoyer purchased Marie and their children and granted them their freedom.
After gaining her freedom, Marie began harvesting tobacco, bear grease, and raising cattle. With the help of land grants and the purchasing of slaves, Marie and her sons became known as the most prominent free people of color plantation and slave owners. In 1796, Marie’s son, Louis Metoyer was granted 911 acres of land, with this Melrose Plantation was born.
However, the Metoyer family had financial debts that resulted in losing the prized Melrose Plantation in 1847.
The most notable time period of Melrose Plantation was under the ownership of John Hampton Henry and Cammie Garret Henry. More specifically, Cammie Garret Henry took the Melrose Plantation to new heights by making renovations to buildings on their property and allowing artist and writers to live on her property for free as long as they did their work.
The first structure that we visited on the plantation was the Yucca House, which is a large white home with teal-colored doors and walls made from bousillage, which is a mixture of mud, Spanish moss, and horsehair.
The Yucca House was used as residency for artists and writers while they worked on their books and paintings. The first most significant resident in the Yucca Home was Lyle Saxton, who wrote the book Children of Strangers, which is a novel centered on the lives of the Cain River People of color, Creoles. Additionally, Francis Mignon was a Frenchman, who is well known for his book Plantation Memo: Plantation Life in Louisiana. More importantly, he is the best friend of Clementine Hunter. Clementine Hunter was a self-taught folk artist, whose art depicted life on the plantation.
She created her first piece in 1939 on a lamp shade. Her long-time friend, Francis Mignon, encouraged her to continue painting, which she did until her death in 1988. Because of her persistence in her craft, Clementine Hunter became one of the most two-or-three noteworthy folk artists of the 20th century.
Clementine Hunter’s work is displayed in the most remarkable structure on the plantation, the African House.
This hut-like building is the only one of its kind in the United States. The building is made of African bricks and cypress beams, and its main use was to store tobacco and other lucrative crops. Now the building is home to beautiful murals by Clementine Hunter. The murals cover the walls of the African Houses second story. Although we were not permitted to take photos, we did find some online.
These murals show images of cotton picking, which was an activity that Hunter loved. Also, we recognized that religion was a consistent theme in Clementine Hunter’s work. Through her art, Hunter portrayed church revivals; with people catching the holy spirit, plantation baptisms, and funerals, which showed the importance of religion to the African American community.
Interestingly, Clementine Hunter’s art mostly used women as the subjects in her art because she was not very fond of men. Women were often depicted as hardworking in the field, while the men were depicted enjoying idle tasks such as fishing or drinking.
Next, we viewed the Big House where we saw the living quarters of Cammie Henry and her family. The building also included a library with writings from many of the authors who complete residencies at the Melrose Plantation. Also, the Big House dedicated a room to Clementine Hunter’s art and her Honorary PhD from Northwestern State University.
Lastly, to conclude our tour, we visited Clementine Hunter’s home, where she produced most of her work from 1954-1977. On the front porch, was a sign that read “50 Cents to Look,” which Hunter used to entice people to view and purchase her art.
Hunter never became wealthy from her work, and she never quiet understood the impact of her art. However, she is considered “the most celebrated of all Southern contemporary painters.”
Clementine Hunter’s continuous dedication to her craft is inspiring and is an attribute that LEAP students can use a model and inspiration in their future occupations.
As we entered the grounds of our third state capitol building of this trip, we were instantly taken aback by its impressive stature. Just like the Mississippi capitol, the Arkansas capitol stood tall, with a golden crown-like statue at the top.
Of course, like the other two capitols we visited, the Greek and Roman influence on the architecture was noticeable immediately from the large pillars and pediment at the entrance. The Arkansas capitol building’s construction began in 1899 and finished in 1914, making the capitol over 100 years old.
After making it through security, we made our way to the rotunda, where we were greeted by Ms. Cheryl Augustine, who was so kind to give us a quick rundown of where all the rooms were located, and we also got a glance at Governor Asa Hutchinson, who walked right by us.
Cheryl then led us to the fourth floor, where we entered the “Senate” gallery to watch the Senate convene. Getting to see the Senate in action was a fun experience because we had a closer look at what was happening, and we even watched as the State Senators voted on a bill.
So, we would like to extend a huge thank you to Cheryl for getting us in!
After seeing the senate proceedings, we thought we would take our chances and head over to the “House of Representatives” gallery to see if we would be able to go in there as well. Luckily, we were able watch the House in action too. The gallery of the House of Representatives is a beautiful large room with a tall gold chandelier hanging in the middle of the rotunda. The rotunda was also nicely crafted, with stained glass at the top that let in the light and brightened up the whole room, not to mention a pretty impressive VIP room.
Outside, in the capitol rotunda, the 4,000-pound chandelier hangs suspended from the ceiling, incorporating over 2,000 brass, copper, zinc, iron, and glass parts. On the third floor of the building, right above the grand staircases that led us to the House and the Senate, were four murals that each had a different theme. Over the south – which is where the Senate is – the “Education” and “Justice” murals stood. Over the north – where the House is – the “War” and “Religion” murals were.
Across the archway, we spotted two capitol officers that I just had to get a photo with, and lucky for me, they were nice enough to do so, which pretty much made my whole day.
After that, we headed to the old Arkansas Supreme Court room, which also embodied a lot of the Greek architecture that is visible throughout the rest of the Capitol, such as the pediments over the doors and the large pillars surrounding them.
As a final stop, we toured the grounds of the Capitol to see “Testament,” by John and Cathy Deering. This a monument to the Little Rock Nine, and it features statues of each of these civil rights’ heroes.
Compared to the other three capitols that I’ve been to, Arkansas has made its way to the top of my list, and I’m happy to say that I am now 4 out of 50 of the state capitols down!
The Little Rock Nine
Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, not all states were eager to begin the desegregation of public schools. Little Rock, AR was notably reluctant, and with the support and “leadership” of Governor Orval Faubus, this reluctance turned to outright rebellion. So it was in 1957 that Dwight Eisenhower sent in federal troops to force integration at Little Rock Central High, bringing international attention to the civil rights movement in the United States.
When inside the Little Rock museum, we quickly realized how fearless the nine African Americans had to be to make it through the obstacles they faced. Although only a small minority of the community, and clearly not enjoying the support of most of Little Rock’s citizens, they remained steadfast.
Of the many inspirational quotes populating the museum…
…the one that most resonated was a paraphrase from the spiritual “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.” The concept of continuing to move forward despite exhaustion has a significant meaning within the African-American community, and it made me think where we would be if Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and the Little Rock Nine hadn’t battled on.
Making this even more poignant was visiting the high school grounds. The campus is beautiful, and very large! Although under construction, we were able to get some photos of us at the structure where civil rights history was made.
This visit was a good reminder of how far we’ve come, while still being cognizant of how far we have to go. But, of course, we will not get tired!
Pinnacle Mountain State Park
After visiting the Little Rock High School Historical Site, the LEAP students embarked on what seemed like our toughest adventure yet: hiking. Just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas sits Pinnacle Mountain State Park. The state park covers 2,356 acres and the mountain has an elevation of 1,011 feet. Additionally, the park encompasses both biking and hiking trails.
Our hiking trail of choice was the East Summit Trail! With strong will and determination, we started our 1.5 mile trek up East Summit Trail in a race to watch the sun set!
The beginning of our trail was a breeze, walking up a staircase of rocks. However, we came to the base of the mountain and faced what seemed like a sea of massive boulders. After digesting the overwhelming view, we started our ascent. Maneuvering our way through the rocks was very strenuous, so we took well-deserved breaks, which gave us a chance to enjoy the beautiful rolling plains behind us.
Finally, we reached the pinnacle, and it was breathtaking! The hard work that we put in to reach the top was fulfilling and well worth it. Being able to look out at the orange and pink hued sky and the expansive rolling hills gave us the opportunity to reflect on everything that we have experienced and allowed us to acknowledge how fortunate we are to take part on this trip. To paraphrase MLK, “we have been to the mountaintop,” and our experience was indescribable.