Black History Month: BYU Law Students Share Who Inspires Them

Click here to read about our Black History Month speaker, Keith Hamilton, who was the first black graduate of BYU Law School. 

As part of Black History Month, we’ve compiled thoughts from some of our students about blacks who have inspired them.


Peter Johnson

“I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama from August 2011 until I graduated in December 2014. I met President Johnson in February 2013, when he became our stake president. I remember being impressed with how much he truly seemed to care about every member of our stake, including our YSA group. He spoke at many YSA events and at a ‘Meet the Mormons’ event that we had in the Northport Chapel. I related to President Johnson because we are both converts. In Alabama, there are many African Americans who join the church from various religious backgrounds. I think especially for them, President Johnson was an inspiration.

“President Johnson was a great example of someone who constantly and selflessly served others. Especially in a region with such a history of racial conflict, I appreciated his willingness to serve everyone and be such a great example to others.

“I want to work for the federal government to protect this country. I want to give back to this country and serve others like President Johnson did.”

–Maura Bochte, 1L


Queen Nanny

“Slaves imported to Jamaica from Africa came from the Gold Coast, the Congo, and Madagascar. The dominant group among Maroon communities was from the Gold Coast. In Jamaica this group was referred to as Coromantie or Koromantee. They were fierce and ferocious fighters with a preference for resistance, survival, and above all freedom. They refused to become slaves. Between 1655 until the 1830s, they led most of the slave rebellions in Jamaica.

“The story of the Maroons’ endurance and ability to hold off the British troops for almost eighty years is one that has never been repeated in history. Nanny of the Maroons or Queen Nanny was one of their leaders and founded the first slave village called Nanny Town. The town served as a refuge for escaped slaves who could make it there. Eventually, Queen Nanny was killed in one of the battles between the escaped slaves and the militia, but her strength ensured that other Maroon Towns survived. In 1793 the British signed a treaty with the Maroons to ensure their freedom if they would stop raiding and burning plantations (the militia could not reach them in the high mountains of Jamaica where they intermarried with the original native Awaraks). Today Jamaica has seven national heroes, and Nanny is the only woman among them.

“She inspires me because of her valor and leadership skills. She stands as the premier example of fighting for personal dignity and resisting oppression. As children in Jamaica we are taught to emulate the spirit of Nanny in standing up for freedom. Jamaica is known for its resistance to British slavery even as it was the crown jewel of the British Empire. It is women like Nanny that helped push the abolition movement along.”

–Crystal Powell, 2L


Maya Angelou

“Maya Angelou has captured so much color and life in her poetry. Anyone who is able to turn pain, hurt, or sorrow into art is truly inspiring. She, like others I admire, including Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, touch me through their words and stories.

“Although these authors’ influence doesn’t direct my legal goals, I feel like they are advocates for a cause. Art, and advocacy are an integral part of my legal determination.”

–Claire Bradford, 1L

William Carney

“William Carneu is considered the first African American to win the Medal of Honor, although it was awarded many years after the Civil War was over. He did his duty despite not being recognized for it at the time. I hope to be like William Carney and always do my duty as a legal professional, especially when it’s not easy, flashy, or popular.”

–Jon McClurg, 1L


Oprah Winfrey

“For a number of years, Oprah Winfrey has truly taught me to elevate my sights and not settle for the mediocre. She had one of the roughest childhoods, full of abuse and deprivation. But through a combination of talent, dilgience, persistence, and providence, she has achieved great heights. All the more inspiring, she has used her status and position to promote goodness, service, love, beauty, and all things connected to the spirit. She never stops. I want to be like that.

“Elevate, inspire, promote goodness – there’s a way to do these things, and her example has helped me to set those ideals as true goals by crystallizing a present example of that achievement.”

–Ashley Nef, 1L

Thurgood Marshall

“Thurgood Marshall is inspiring because of the way he used the law to protect an entire class of people–the fact that the words ‘Thurgood’s coming’ could instill hope. I want to help people who don’t have a voice.”

–Tanner McClellan, 1L

Frederick Douglass

“Frederick Douglas inspires me not necessarily in how he advocated violence, but his resolve in taking a strong stance against social injustice at a time when it was so hard and dangerous to do so. Also, I admire his resolve to rise to where he did in his knowledge after escaping (and during slavery).

“Douglas impacts me because I want to have the courage to stand up for things I believe to be right even when society might seem against me.”

–Matt Collins, 1L

 Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson

Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson were three women who worked at NASA during the 1960s, and they played important roles in the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space.

“They inspire me because of the self-confidence, self-worth, and patience with which they participated in and fought for the rights to work and share their gifts, talents, and beauty with the world. I am encouraged to love myself, my strengths, and recognize my abilities and the contributions I can personally make.”

–Athelia Graham, 1L


Jerry Rice

“Jerry Rice epitomizes the value of hard work. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest. He didn’t go to the best school, but his work ethic was unmatched. He did everything he could to be the best and he was.

“It doesn’t matter what my background is or my intellectual abilities because if I work, and I am disciplined, I can succeed.”

–Jay Carter, 1L

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