dinner attendees gathered, holding up lit candles in a wide circle formation.

Annual Students of Color Dinner Returns with Presentation of New Ally Award

Raising up the important work of allies in the pursuit of equity and inclusion, UB Law’s Students of Color Dinner featured a major new honor this year: the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ally Award.

The award was conceived as a way to recognize those who have contributed to advancing the law school community’s DEI initiatives. This includes, event organizers said, “fostering inclusive community building; advocating for change; participating in longstanding and meaningful mentorship initiatives; or publishing an article on a DEI-related topic.”

The inaugural award went to Kevin Hartnett ’21, recognizing his work to create a DEI editor position on the Buffalo Law Review while serving as Law Review’s editor in chief from 2020-2021.

“This entire award was inspired by Kevin,” says Shakierah Smith ’22, the Law Review’s first DEI editor, who proposed the award along with her successor in that role, next year’s DEI editor, Peter Evancho ’23. “Kevin has been a champion for the position and for me. So often the concerns of marginalized communities are not heard, and sometimes it takes the voices of allies like Kevin to get these issues pushed forward.”

Zoom image: Kevin Hartnett '21, recipient of the new DEI Ally Award and Shakierah Smith '22. Kevin Hartnett '21 standing next to Shakierah Smith '22 while holding his DEI Ally Award.

Kevin Hartnett '21, recipient of the new DEI Ally Award and Shakierah Smith '22.

The Ally Award was among many highlights at the Students of Color Dinner, one of UB Law’s longest-tenured and most-loved traditions.

Nearly 200 gathered at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott for the April 14 event, jointly hosted and organized by the School of Law’s Black Law Students Association, Latin American Law Students Association, and Native American Law Students Association. The 2020 and 2021 events were sidelined by pandemic restrictions.  For this year’s graduating students, it was their only chance to be part of the tradition – and, they said, that made it all the sweeter.

“I’m glad the 1Ls and 2Ls were present to have this experience,” says Deborah Amponsah ’22, president of the Black Law Students Association, who organized the event – the 31st annual – with her fellow 3L classmates Claudia Flores-Montesinos ’22, president of the Latin American Law Students Association, and Elias Fox Schmidt ’22, president of the Native American Law Students Association. “We’re passing the torch to them, and we hope the school and the administration continue to support the students so this tradition doesn’t die. We had a lot of positive feedback; some people said this is one of their favorite events, so I’m glad we could have it.”

The organizers acknowledged the dedication and support of Amber Melvin ’13, program coordinator for the law school’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “The law school is committed to supporting our diverse students and initiatives that help them to thrive as students and beyond.” says Melvin. “I am incredibly proud of all of the students involved with organizing the dinner. They put so much time and effort into creating a successful event. They have shown such dedication to celebrating the honorees and each other despite the challenges of the pandemic. “

The evening’s keynote speaker, Buffalo City Court Chief Judge Craig D. Hannah ’95, shared some practical wisdom for those about to embark on their legal careers. “Your time is valuable,” he said. “The day goes by in the blink of an eye, and if you have 15 things to do, you’ll probably finish about five of them. You should not let anyone waste your time. We call these people dream stealers.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you there are going to be some struggles. Bad things may come your way. But if you work hard, when bad things come your way you’ll be able to deal with them. Because bad things happen all the time to good people, and our job is to make sure you’re armed with the skills and the resources so you can do something to address them.”

For Amponsah, the dinner brought her full circle. “I went to undergrad at UB,” she says, “and when I was planning for law school, I worked at the Career Services Office. Some of these people I’ve known since I was an undergrad; they were with me when I was applying, and now I’m about to leave.”

Flores-Montesinos adds, “It was great seeing all the people who support these diverse organizations and who want to recognize all the achievements that have been made,” she says. “I’m excited to pass on my knowledge to the incoming board members and then be an active alumna of UB Law.”

In addition to the Ally Award, the following awards were presented:

The Distinguished Alumna Award to Hon. Barbara Johnson-Lee ’86, Buffalo City Court judge.

The Trailblazer Award, recognizing work to pave the way for others to follow, to Rody Damis ’13, a senior legislative analyst in the Office of Management and Budget, part of the Executive Office of the United States President.

Professor of the Year to Tolulope Odunsi, a lecturer in law, legal analysis, writing and research, and former assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion.

The Distinguished Firm Award to two recipients, Harris Beach PLLC and Hodgson Russ LLP.

The Distinguished Community Organization Award to Black Love Resists in the Rust, a community organization working toward transformative social justice in Buffalo.

The Monique E. Emdin Memorial Award, recognizing a commitment to community service and service to the law school, to Shakierah Smith.

The Marie Nesbitt Promise Prize, awarded by the Change Create Transform Foundation, to UB undergraduate and Discover Law Scholar Ijeoma Ezekwe.