Minority girls urged to consider careers in law
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About 40 young women from local high schools gathered at Duquesne University yesterday for the fifth annual Color of Justice, a primer to encourage minority girls to consider careers in law.Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Ronnice Massengill, 16, a junior at Westinghouse High School, listens to a speaker at yesterday's Color of Justice program.
Click photo for larger image.
The students, sophomores and juniors, were given a few history lessons by female attorneys who have blazed trails across the legal landscape.
Doris Smith-Ribner's parents had 11 children. There was no money to send the Cleveland native to college. So she went part time, working her way through. At 22, she came to Pittsburgh with nothing but her faith.
"I had no money, no grant, no scholarship," she said, when she began at the University of Pittsburgh.
She went on to become the first black woman elected to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Donetta Ambrose grew up in the rural highlands of Westmoreland County. Neither of her parents finished high school. In the 1960s, she planned to be a French teacher, having no idea of what it took to be a lawyer.
Today, she serves as the first female chief judge over the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The girls also heard from female lawyers, but it was the judges who stole the show. Their real-life lessons in grace overcoming adversity were a clarion call.
"You're looking at history here," said Cynthia Baldwin, recently appointed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, who told the participants that "it's not important where you come from, it's important where you are going."
At age 32, Judge Baldwin went to law school. A child of the 1960s, she remembers her parents talking about the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which legally desegregated public schools.
She was in college in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed.
"I actually saw the law changing people's lives," she said.
According to the Allegheny County Bar Association, there are 4,800 male lawyers and 1,600 women. The number of black lawyers in the county fluctuates between 185 and 200.
"I do this," said Superior Court Justice Mary Jane Bowes, one of the organizers of the session, "because justice is made fuller and richer and more just when we bring our own unique backgrounds to it."
First Published March 9, 2006 12:00 am