Making her mark: Detroit law review editor found inspiration from her late father

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

From Michigan State University, to Spain and now Detroit Mercy Law, BLSA president and Law Review Editor, Cheryl Mitchell, has drawn on her life experiences to create a lasting impact at the law school, and has created a space for herself in the legal community.

“Though I enjoyed many of my classes, my advice to college students who may be interested in the legal field is to take courses that pique your interest and don’t feel bound to focus solely on political science,” says Mitchell, a graduate of MSU. “The best lawyers are those who know a little about everything.”

To diversify herself, she chose to teach English in Spain for a year before law school.

“I truly enjoyed teaching and working with children,” she says. “My goal was not only to teach them about the English language but to also share with them things about my culture and community. My school was a very close-knit and focused on the needs of each child, both academically and personally. I became very close with the children and am still in contact with them. I’ve been back numerous times to visit the school and my old students.”

This experience aided her greatly when she returned stateside to work at the immigration law firm, Dhade and Associates PC, where she found her love in advocacy while aiding in the prevention of a deportation.

From there, Mitchell went on to Detroit Mercy Law. During her time there, she participated in various experiential clinics where she helped people expunge their criminal records, supported veterans by developing strategies for their driver’s license restoration, and helped Wayne County residents avoid property tax foreclosure.

“I’m a hands-on learner, so having the opportunity to step outside of the classroom and apply the material and skills I gained has advanced my understanding of concepts, It also provided me with motivation when law school had its difficult moments, because I knew the end result of being able to help my community would be worth it.” she says.

Her judicial externship with Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford in the Eastern District of Michigan helped Mitchell grow as a researcher and writer, and provided valuable mentoring and feedback.

“I loved working at the court and in my judge’s chambers,” she says. “My work entailed creating reports and recommendations on pro se prisoner appeals—sparking my interest in later working at the Federal Pro Se Clinic as a student attorney.”

Since last May, she has been clerking for Zausmer P.C. in Farmington Hills.

“It’s been an enjoyable experience, and I’ve been able to work closely with many amazing attorneys in the field,” she says.

Mitchell is especially proud of two accomplishments during her time at Detroit Mercy Law:  the Black Law Students Association’s creation of the Henry H. Tarrant Award for Black Student Excellence; and her award winning Law Review note, inspired by her late father.

Mitchell describes her role as president of the Black Law Students Association in her 3L year as “an amazing experience.”

“I have an incredible team and very dedicated members,” she says. “This has allowed me to expand our chapter in building its academic success, volunteer work, and community development.”

The Henry H. Tarrant Award for Black Student Excellence, named for the first known black graduate from Detroit Mercy Law who made pivotal strides in the community, and whose portrait will be unveiled at the school on Jan. 30, is the perfect example of BLSA’s mission.

“We hope this opportunity will allow for more black excellence, especially within the legal field,” Mitchell says.

In February, BLSA has three events showcasing black excellence: “Strides towards Justice” on February 4 at 6 p.m., with guest speaker alumna Aramis Ayala, a state attorney in Florida, as well as Valerie Newman, director of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office Conviction Integrity Unit; and Aaron Salter, founder of Innocence Maintained; a mixer, “UDM Law BLSA: Past, Present, & Future,” on February 12 at 6 p.m.; and “Versatility of the JD,” February 25 at 6 p.m., a panel of Black professionals who took non-traditional routes after law school.

BLSA’s premier event – Vegas Night – is set for March 28 at the Durfee Innovation Society. Vegas Night is a fund-raiser that raises scholarship funds for minority law students.

The organization also has participated in several volunteer opportunities, allowing members to grow individually and closer as a group. An LSAT book drive was successful in collecting and providing minority law students with the resources to successfully take the LSAT.

BLSA is especially proud of its “Street Law Program” at Martin Luther King Jr. High School and Renaissance High School.

“Our goal is to advance their knowledge about the justice system and empower students with legal and civic knowledge, develop their skills, and confidence to bring about a positive change for themselves and others,” she says. “I love this experience because we discuss topics that genuinely affect the children and help them learn how to maneuver their issues as young adults—it’s amazing to see their passion in discovering the power they have in their own voice.”

Outside of BLSA, Mitchell is a member of the Federal Bar Association Diversity Committee, and participates in community organizations  “Caught Up,” and “Alternatives for Girls. ”

Mitchell, who serves as a Title Editor for Law Review, found inspiration for her Law Review Note from a family tragedy. Her father passed from multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer that primarily affects African American men. His illness inspired her Note, which assesses the rights of individuals and the usage of their bio-specimen for medical research. Her work received the Sengstock Award for Best Law Review Note.

“I believe having people choose between their rights and health is something that needs to be addressed, as historically discriminated communities are those often affected,” she says.

In her leisure time, Mitchell enjoys cooking, traveling, and learning about different cultures.

“Growing up in a diverse household, my parents pushed me to expand my horizons—so, I enjoy creating different meals and sharing them with my loved ones,” she says.

And even with her love of travel, she finds Detroit to still be one of a kind.

“Detroit has a beauty, unlike many of the places I’ve been to,” she says. “There’s no other place like it, from the art, music, people, food, history, and culture, Detroit is truly unique. Although many people recognize Detroit for its Downtown and Midtown areas, the city’s heart lies in it is communities and people—the possibilities for this city are endless.”



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