Alumnus creates scholarship for Black law students
When David Sowemimo visited the Winnipeg Law Courts as a student, it wasn’t unusual for him to be questioned about his presence.
“I would be at the back of the courtroom and the security guard would come to me and say, ‘why are you here?’ And I would say ‘I’m a law student as a matter of fact’ and he would smile and be surprised. All the accused were mostly people of colour, and the lawyers were usually old white men.”
Today, as an injury lawyer in Edmonton, Sowemimo [BA(Adv)/08, JD/15] is continuing to work hard to challenge society’s perceptions and encourage other Black students to consider a legal career.
Sowemimo was 17 when he came from Nigeria to study at UM. He majored in labour studies for his undergraduate degree before working as a claims representative in the insurance industry. It was there he met lawyers who encouraged him to pursue his clear interest in law which prompted him to return to UM for his juris doctor degree.
That encouragement from those who are now his legal peers helped Sowemimo overcome what he says is often a barrier for Black students: not seeing enough people who look like them in law.
“When I graduated we had two Black students – myself and somebody else. And it contributed a lot to seeing myself in law firms in downtown Winnipeg. I couldn’t see myself in that arena at all, at that time. Seeing people who look like you, and speak like you, in professional settings, really does help.”
During his education, Sowemimo received a scholarship for students demonstrating financial need. He sent a thank you note to the donors who wrote back in turn to wish him well. “I just thought that one day, if I do really well in this law thing, maybe I could send something out to other students as well.” In January 2021, he did.
The David Sowemimo Law Entrance Scholarship will be awarded annually to Black undergraduate students enrolled full-time in the juris doctor program in UM’s Faculty of Law. It is the first scholarship of its kind at UM.
“For the legal profession to have a truly positive impact in our community, we must be representative of the people we serve,” says David Asper, Q.C., Acting Dean, Faculty of Law. “Having a diverse and inclusive student body and faculty is critical to achieving that representation. I hope our Black students will be empowered by this gift to consider a highly-rewarding career in law.”
For Sowemimo, his hope is that this entrance scholarship will make taking the first step to a legal education that much easier. “When you talk to Black students just socially they tell you ‘oh I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer’, and I’m always saying ‘so why haven’t you done it?’ You can second guess, you can plan, but at the end of the day, you just have to do it. Pick up the LSAT book, write the exam, apply to all the schools that you want to go to – preferably the University of Manitoba. Don’t let anything hold you back.”
The David Sowemimo Law Entrance Scholarship will be awarded for the first time in the 2021-22 academic year. Application information for students can be found here. Those who would like to make a donation to the scholarship can do so by clicking here.