PUBLISHED:July 17, 2020

Grady ’22 challenges Law School community, legal profession to “listen, learn, and include” and value diverse students, attorneys

The following op-ed appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal on July 13, 2020. You can see the original piece here. Because the story may require a subscription to view, we are reprinting it below.

Guest notebook: For combating racial disparities, commitment makes the difference

By Brittany Grady

I am an Alabama native, born and raised in Birmingham. 

My entire childhood was spent dreaming of the day when I could leave my ill-fitting state and explore more progressive regions. I was constantly searching for a new home that would welcome my black skin, curly hair, outspoken candor and inquisitive mind. 

My ticket out was speech and debate. I joined the SpeakFirst Debate team in high school, then the University of Alabama speech and debate team in college. Finally, I was accepted into Duke School of Law. I packed all of my belongings and began my journey into a new world. A world I assumed would be more welcoming of “my kind,” more in-tune with my feelings, more open to the intersectionality of being a Black Southern woman determined to take up space in a whitewashed world. 

Unfortunately, Duke was not the safe haven I imagined. Instead of encountering a group of intellectuals committed to solving America’s racial inequities and legal prejudice, I found a group of students more invested in passing exams and securing firm jobs. Despite the university being located in a majority black community, employing a majority black janitorial staff, and educating a few cherry-picked black scholars, most students were uninterested in even discussing the impact of race. In Alabama, my race entered every space before I did. At Duke, my race entered the space, and then stood awkwardly in the corner — people too afraid to confront the uninvited guest.

As I began my search for a summer internship, I began to see a common theme amongst firms – the overwhelming presence of white men and the obvious absence of people of color. After a while, the firms began to blend together. I would answer the same questions, while the interviewers would stare at me like another statistic. Each would throw out words like, diversity, inclusion and culture, as their white hands clutched company brochures containing smiling black and brown faces.

Nearly at my wit’s end, I found myself interviewing for one more “white” firm, with the hopes of winning a coveted paid clerkship. Luckily, this firm immediately had a charm the others lacked. Each lawyer dedicated time to meet with me. I was introduced to partners, taken to dinner and coffee. I was the priority that day and everyone knew it. After getting over the initial shock of being surrounded by an all-white male staff, I quickly felt at home and welcomed into the fold. 

As the interview came to a close, I was asked one more unexpected question. “Well, Brittany, what do you think we could do to be more inclusive and attract more diverse candidates?”

“I’m not sure how you can attract other minority members, but to retain diverse talent, all you need to do is make space for them. Listen, learn, include and make them feel valued as a team member,” I replied. The forethought to ask this simple question told me I was in the right place. I was home. 

Many may think this small act of decency unworthy of such high praise, and even I admit the low bar this question sets. However, when spending your entire life trying to prove Black Lives Matter in white spaces, meeting individuals conscious of black struggles and willing to correct societal wrongs makes all of the difference. 

The icing on the cake was this firm was located in Birmingham, Alabama. Oh, the irony! I spent years running from home because my race was always at the forefront, only to discover dealing with race up front is the best way to move forward. Recognizing race and how it impacts a person is the first step to this country’s healing. Although my journey with Birmingham started turbulently, I now appreciate the people of Birmingham who are committed to recognizing racial disparities and working to repair the damage. They make all the difference. They are the future of America.

Brittany Grady is an Alabama native and a student at the Duke University School of Law, class of 2022.