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Bunisha Samuels

Osgoode’s Raise the Black Bar program emphasizes mentorship for youth, diversity in law

Tuesday, January 03, 2023 @ 9:40 AM | By Amanda Jerome

“Mentorship” is the focus of the Raise the Black Bar program, an initiative launched by Osgoode Hall Law School’s Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA Osgoode) to “break down barriers to legal education for Black youth.”

“Raise the Black Bar is something that the Black Law Students’ Association has been working on for a couple years now,” BLSA Osgoode president, Bunisha Samuels, told The Lawyer’s Daily.

Samuels said one of the association’s “biggest goals was to not only focus on the recruitment of more Black law students, but also to increase the number of Black students that we have in schools overall.”

Bunisha Samuels, Black Law Students’ Association

Bunisha Samuels, Black Law Students’ Association

“Typically, the pipeline focuses on post-secondary spaces,” she explained, noting that the University of Toronto has a Black Future Lawyers program.

“We wanted to start something that focused a lot earlier,” she said, noting that often “Black students are discouraged from entering into post-secondary spaces overall,” which limits their chances of coming to law school.

According to a press release, the program was launched in partnership with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) on Nov. 30, 2022 and is open to “all Black students across the TDSB’s 110 secondary schools, with a focus on those in Grades 10, 11 and 12.”

“Students will learn about diverse career opportunities in law, pathways to law school and financial aid,” the release explained, noting that mentors will help students “navigate barriers unique to Black students and will debunk myths about law, law school and legal careers.”

Mentors will also “coach students on how to build a winning resumé and cover letter and how to network in professional and academic areas of interest prior to entering law.”

“We’re designing the program around mentorship,” Samuels explained, emphasizing connecting “Black students with law” and Black law students, “as well as Black lawyers and Osgoode alum to help them to start seeing themselves in spaces while also providing advice that’s relevant to where they are now.”

Samuels said the advice can range from issues such as “choosing post-secondary degrees, talking about course selection, talking about career pathways, helping to decentralize or desilo what people typically think a law education means.”

“Being able to help them understand what it means to be a black lawyer — be it in the corporate space, be it in a government space, be it a family law contexts or criminal law context — and just really helping them build those connections and helping them see themselves reflected,” she explained.

Samuels noted that “over the last couple of years, we've definitely seen a big push to diversify all of our legal spaces and diversify the legal profession.” However, she believes the “under-representation of Black lawyers still continues to be an issue.”

“A big way for us to solve that is to start seeing ourselves reflected in those spaces and starting that with our Black youth is particularly important,” she stressed.

Samuels said it was evident to her at the program’s launch that students had an interest in many areas of study, but the desire to “pivot and come into law afterwards.”

She said it was “inspiring” to see “so many of our Black law students and executive members from our BLSA come out and talk to them, and share their experiences, and share their stories that reflected the experiences that they were seeing in the present.”

Samuels said it was “great” that “not only are we talking about this upcoming generation of lawyers, but we’re thinking about the next couple of generations of lawyers and increasing that diversity in a sustainable way.”

When the program was launched, Samuels said, “we believe this is the first program of its kind focusing specifically on the needs of Black high school students” and that she was “optimistic that Raise the Black Bar is going to help create a whole new generation of Black law students and Black lawyers.”

“I wish I had had this when I was in high school,” she added.

When asked what impact a program like this would have had on her in high school, she said she “wouldn’t have second-guessed” her application to law school.

“It’s a lot more important to be a co-conspirator and provide students with the skills and the tools that they need to have, or that they’re requesting, rather than trying to guide them along a certain path,” she added.  

Samuels feels that, for many Black students, “we had to find our way and we kind of stumbled through, so as many barriers as we can alleviate for them, I think is the most important thing to me.”

She stressed that a Raise the Black Bar Program “would have made it a lot easier” on her journey to law school as she wouldn’t have had to “go out and seek mentors.”

Mary Condon, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, said “beginning with the introduction of our holistic admissions policy 15 years ago, Osgoode has been a leader among Canadian law schools in breaking down barriers to inclusion.”

“Osgoode’s goal to be the most diverse, accessible law school in Canada is integral to our vision for excellence,” she said, stressing that the school is “proud and very excited to continue that tradition by partnering with Canada’s largest school board to create the Raise the Black Bar program.”

“Like the TDSB, we believe to our core that diversity is our strength and the path to true excellence in the legal profession and beyond. Raise the Black Bar will open the door to a new generation of talented lawyers, and we can’t wait to witness their amazing achievements,” she added in a statement.

Colleen Russell-Rawlins, the TDSB director of education, said the board is “committed to improving the experiences and outcomes for Black students and is proud to partner with Osgoode Hall Law School for the Raise the Black Bar initiative.”

“This initiative is an incredible opportunity for Black secondary students to learn more about the diverse career options in law, enhance their understanding of legal education and pathways, and connect directly with Black law student mentors,” she explained in a statement.

Samuels believes this will be an “ongoing” project and hopes the program will be expanded to other school boards. She said the support so far has been “amazing” with a lot of lawyers reaching out, asking how to get involved.

“The Black Law Students’ Association hosts a conference called ‘Know Your Worth’ and we’re always looking for lawyers, mentors and sponsors who want to get involved with the conference. It’s something that we do annually with our TDSB students, so if there are lawyers or firms that are looking to get more involved with the program, this is one way, and we’d love to have people reach out,” she added.

According to Samuels the Know Your Worth conference will be held on Feb. 27, 2023.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Amanda Jerome at or 416-524-2152.