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Ronald H. Brown Prep Program Alumna Nia Bronner ’18 Finds Her Calling

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fourth grade wasn’t easy for Nia Bronner. Her parents divorced and her mother had to move the family from the comforts of the suburbs to the heart of the City of Buffalo. There, as Bronner describes it, she and her sister attended “the absolute worst public school” in the area. “We didn’t have a principal or a nurse,” she recalls. “The windows were boarded up and the teachers were under qualified. I was horrified.”

Though she stayed in that school for just one year, it was a life changing experience for Bronner. “My passion for education reform started the day I walked into my fourth grade classroom,” she says. So did her dream of becoming a lawyer. “My mom applied to the only law school in our city that same year, but didn’t get accepted,” Bronner explains. “She’s gone on to get her doctorate in theology and is a minister, but it’s always stuck with me that being a lawyer was her dream, and it’s morphed into mine.”

Bronner went on to attend St. John’s University and, the summer after her junior year, she participated in the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students at St. John’s Law. An award-winning pipeline initiative of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights, the full-summer program serves college sophomores and juniors from historically underrepresented groups who want to pursue a career in the law. Consistent with the center’s mission, the program aims to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity in law schools and in the legal profession.

Prep Program sophomores take courses at St. John’s and intern with judges and others in the field. The juniors take an intensive LSAT prep course and learn how to navigate the law school application process. They also participate in the annual Diversity Day and Admissions Fair, where representatives from law schools around the country come to St. John’s to meet and interview the Prep Program students. Today, over 100 Prep Program alumni are either in law school or are practicing law.

“The Prep Program was an indescribable treasure,” says Bronner. “I gained so much more than tools to conquer the LSAT. I got a community of peers, professors, and legal professionals that I still rely on today. Across the board, everyone is committed to you becoming an attorney, from getting support on application materials, to building a professional network, to having a mentor to advise you on your educational and career path. The program didn’t necessarily shape my vision of myself as a lawyer, but I think because of the program I actually believed it was possible.”

With that firmly rooted belief, Bronner applied to law school and was accepted to St. John’s Law with a full tuition Ronald. H. Brown Scholarship. “It was an incredible honor to receive the scholarship,” Bronner says. “Graduating debt free gives me the amazing freedom to pursue a career fighting for education equality for children in this country.”

At St. John’s, Bronner has become a community leader as president of the Coalition For Social Justice, a student-run organization that aims to bring issues of racial and social justice to the forefront of conversation at the Law School. “As students we can get so consumed with work and our desire to achieve that we can forget that we’re a part of a larger community and world,” says Bronner. “The coalition offers a safe place to talk about social issues, and to engage in meaningful dialogue with other students, alumni, and faculty. And we’re turning those conversations into action.”

In May, Bronner had a chance to engage in these vital conversations with leaders in the field when she served as a panelist at the Northeast People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference on Confronting the Violence of Our Times. “Being a person of color, being a black person in the legal profession, in law school, in life, is something you can’t fully understand until you live it,” she shares. “And being surrounded by people who have lived it, scholars who are trailblazers, I can’t explain how incredible that was. Above all, it was a validation. Someone else has faced the same circumstances as you and they have thrived.”

This summer, Bronner has returned to the Prep Program as a teaching assistant for the sophomore participants. “It’s important to me to be part of the program this summer because this is my community,” she says. “I want all 21 students I work with as a teaching assistant to become lawyers one day. I want them to know that they belong in the legal profession and in law school. This summer, I get to be everything someone was for me. It’s just my way of repaying a small portion of what the Prep Program has done for me.”