Black Allied Law Students Association celebrates 50th anniversary

As a bright winter moon illuminated the Rosenthal Pavilion on February 2, the Black Allied Law Students Association (BALSA) celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding with a gala event. BALSA, established at the Law School in 1968, has spread beyond NYU to become a national student-run group, the National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA).

Dean Trevor Morrison announced that the law school will install a plaque commemorating BALSA’s founding outside Golding Lounge, and thanked BALSA’s founders for “their amazing vision.” Recognized at the event were Algernon Johnson “AJ” Cooper, Jr. '69, a former partner at Washington, D.C.’s Ginsburg, Feldman and Bress, and Robert Holmes '69, former executive vice president of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s music group.

Algernon "AJ" Cooper '69
Also recognized were Professor Paulette Caldwell; Lisa Marie Boykin '95, senior vice president of business and legal affairs at Annapurna Pictures in Los Angeles; and community organizer and attorney Chigozie Onyema '11, general counsel and director of development of the Newark Parking Authority.

Paulette Caldwell and Lisa Marie Boykin at the BALSA 50th Anniversary event
Paulette Caldwell (left) and Lisa Marie Boykin '95
With more than 100 members today, NYU’s BALSA sponsors networking, support and enrichment activities and performs service, such as a recent volunteering trip for 1Ls in Ghana during winter recess. The organization also sends teams to NBLSA’s Frederick Douglass moot court, trial court competition, and international negotiations competitions, and sponsors other community-based activities and efforts aimed at increasing the diversity of law school students, staff and faculty.

In his remarks at the gala, Cooper recalled being one of a handful of black American students at the University of Notre Dame, where he was an undergraduate, and at NYU Law. Determined to increase the numbers, he said, he incorporated BALSA with the aim of creating a “bridge over troubled waters” where black students could support each other. Second and third chapters followed soon after at Columbia University and Howard University, respectively. NBLSA now has more than 200 chapters in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Cooper, whose career included serving as mayor of Prichard, Alabama and as chief of staff and tax counsel to then-congressman Harold Ford Sr., noted that while the nation, the legal profession and the law school have made strides in racial equality over the years, there’s still much to be done.

Chigozie Oyema speaking at the BALSA 50th Anniversary event
Chigozie Onyema '11
“Right now, the most segregated time in America, aside from church on Sunday, is at partnership meetings in major law firms,” he said, referencing Martin Luther King’s comment about segregated worship in the United States in the 1960’s.

Onyema’s remarks met with a standing ovation, as he addressed recent equal rights rollbacks in the US. “As we engage in the important work of the Third Reconstruction, we must use every tool at our disposal,” he said. “Let’s discover our mission and never betray it. Victory is ours if we fight for it.”

Holmes and event cochairs Micah Desaire ’19 and Ellen Gong ’18 presented three high school seniors, Jorge Morales, Erika Castillo, and Jordan Allbrooks, with $3,500 BALSA Legends scholarships, which were funded with support from Holmes.

Posted February 15, 2018