By Ameera Stewart
The Birmingham Times
Sunny Shah, a third-year student at the Samford University Cumberland School of Law, knows about immigration, and he doesn’t want what happened to his family to happen to others. Although he grew up in Dothan, Ala., Shah and his family emigrated from London when he was a baby. His family’s story is what sparked his interest in the law.
“Growing up as immigrants … and learning what my family had to go through inspired me to be an immigration attorney, go to law school … to do it the right way,” said Shah, one of eight students awarded scholarships at the recent Magic City Bar Association (MCBA) Annual Scholarship Banquet.
The MCBA supports and encourages students preparing to make contributions to the community through the legal profession. Every year, the group awards scholarships to minority students attending Alabama law schools.
Passion For The Law
Before attending law school, Shah earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Troy University. In his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball, soccer, vegan cooking, and traveling. When he becomes a lawyer, he looks forward to helping others.
“I feel like I’ve learned more valuable information in my life in law school than I have in any other field,” he said. “That really kind of grew my interest in being a lawyer, wanting to be an immigration lawyer, that passion.”
Shah said he’d like to find ways to help all minorities because sometimes in Alabama the Civil Rights Movement is generally known to focus on one group.
“I want people to be informed that there are Asian-Pacific-Americans, there are Latino people,” he said. “I want to build those coalitions, to start team building as minorities all together, growing together.”
Another scholarship winner, Noelle Sillmon, is a second-year-student at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Ala. Prior to law school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Auburn University; she also is an active member of the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International and serves as secretary of the Black Law Students Association.
“What we really do is promote a family at our school,” she said. “We do our best to help each other out. … We do anything to promote academics and to give back to our community, as well.”
Sillmon clerks for Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Johnny Hardwick, and she believes it’s been a tremendous help to work under someone with so much experience in the legal field.
“He’s taken me under his wing with anything I need, with any subject I’m struggling with,” she said.
The other MCBA scholarship recipients were Robert Blakesleay, a second-year-student at the Cumberland School of Law; Ashley Smith, a second-year-student at the Birmingham School of Law; Kameron Buckner, a third-year-student at the Cumberland School of Law; Taurus Myhand, a third-year-student at the University of Alabama School of Law; Ramona Russell, a third-year law student at Miles Law School and La’Keshia Parks a third-year law student at Thomas Goode School of Law.
The scholarship banquet featured a panel discussion with three of Birmingham’s African-American mayors, who reflected on the city’s past and looked toward the future: Mayor Randall Woodfin (elected in 2017) and former mayors Richard Arrington Jr. (1979–1999) and William Bell Sr. (2010–2017).
The mayors were asked to give advice to the scholarship recipients.
Woodfin told the students to start with why they wanted to attend law school.
“Each of us wrote a personal statement to get into law school. If you still have a copy of it, pull it out from time to time and read it,” he said. “It will remind you why you want to be a lawyer. If you need a nudge, it will remind you about what motivates you to want to be a lawyer.”
Woodfin encouraged the recipients to make sure their work ethic is tied with having humility, doing community service, giving back, and serving others.
“You can’t have fear in life,” he said. “As a lawyer, you will probably lose a case, whether it’s a big trial or a jury trial. If you decide to take the license and use it for other means, such as wanting to be in public service, it’s likely that you won’t win the first race you run for. But you can’t be timid, you can’t be too reserved, you can’t be scared to jump off the porch, so fear does not exist.”
Arrington, the city’s first African-American mayor, said, “First of all, know who you are—know your history, know where you come from, know the prices paid to give you this opportunity.”
Bell told students to use their education to help them be an example to others and overcome challenges.
“You can be the shining example, not just to everyone in this room but to your little brother and little sister, who may not know what they want to be in life,” he said. “You can be the shining example to members of your church by overcoming challenges and struggles. … Everyone has a fair opportunity in this country to be the best that they can be, but you’ve got to arm yourself educationally, you’ve got to give yourself the tools necessary to overcome all the challenges you’re going to face. If you make that commitment to yourself, to serve that mistress called the law, you’ll benefit very well from it down through the years.”