Healing Our Racial Wounds

Rena Karefa-Johnson CdeP 2005 returns to campus to make an inspiring case for social justice.
This past Thursday Thacher was pleased to welcome Rena Karefa-Johnson CdeP 2005 back to campus to deliver the 2016 Orrick Lecture. Each year, Thacher's Judge William H. Orrick Lecture Series aims to shed light on important political, social, and economic issues. In her speech entitled Black Students Matter: How Student Activism Post-Ferguson Destroyed the Myth of Colorblindness, Ms. Karefa-Johnson addressed the importance of moving away from colorblindness and towards race consciousness.

Rena Karefa-Johnson is a third-year law student, activist, and organizer at Harvard Law School. In her first year of law school, she co-founded Students for Inclusion (SFI), an intersectional advocacy group fighting for meaningful inclusion, both in and outside of the classroom, of those communities and voices that have traditionally been marginalized in higher education and the legal field. Now in her third year, Ms. Karefa-Johnson is pivotally involved with Reclaim Harvard Law School, a movement of students and staff demanding racial equity at Harvard Law. She also served as a representative on Harvard Law School's committee which recently decided to change the seal of the school because of its ties to slavery.

In her talk, Ms. Karefa-Johnson shed light on her involvement in the current Reclaim HLS movement and the importance of impacting change at Harvard Law. (For more information about the Reclaim HLS movement visit their website here.) Ms. Karefa-Johson's motivation stems from a desire to continue her grandfather's legacy of healing. "While he fought to heal the suffering in his colonized, impoverished country of Sierra Leone through public health and politics, I wanted to come to law school to heal this country’s racial wounds, and the rampant inequity those wounds cause, through the law."

Ms. Karefa-Johnson's message was deeply impactful and inspirational to many in the community. Ms. Murphy-Root commented, "As someone new to the community, I looked forward to the Orrick lecture all year. I was blown away by Rena's poise, eloquence, and especially the point she made about wanting to be a healer through her legal training by confronting institutional racism head on. I think it was especially meaningful to have a young alumna share her firsthand experience navigating the choppy waters of a place as prestigious and fraught with history as Harvard Law. I deeply appreciated the time she took to speak with students both before and after her talk and the time she spent with the BSU the next morning. Rena's work at Harvard Law is intimately connected to a tradition of pushing back against white supremacy by 'agitating the comfortable'. I hope more Thacher students will follow in her footsteps of on the ground social justice work."

The Orrick Lecture Series is made possible through a gift of former U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick Jr. CdeP 1932 and his wife, Suzanne. A longstanding and unusually loyal devotee and supporter of The Thacher School, former U.S. District Judge Orrick had a fond wish for his alma mater: that students could learn more about the U.S. legal system, jurisprudence, and the public service done by attorneys and judges, in order to serve their communities and make a difference in the world after their time at Thacher.

As per the Judge Orrick’s directive and gustatory preference, every Lecture concludes with Eskimo Pies on the Pergola!
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    • Orrick Lecture 2016

      Rena Karefa-Johnson CdeP 2005

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