Pharoah Sutton-Jackson takes a deep breath, straightens his tie, and walks into the din that only a room full of 8th graders can make. Grabbing their attention, a stranger in a nice suit, he asks the students, “What do you think I do?”
That same scenario plays out in the public school classrooms across New York City, where Sutton-Jackson presents workshops as a volunteer with the Statewide Law School Access to Justice Council’s Diversity Pipeline Initiative, a collaborative effort of the Law School Admission Council, the nonprofit Legal Outreach, and New York’s 15 Law Schools.
“I’m grateful and humbled to volunteer as a Diversity Pipeline Instructor and support Legal Outreach’s mission of inspiring urban youth from underserved communities to pursue a legal education,” Sutton-Jackson says. “I value being a symbol of representation when I first walk in the classroom. As these young students spend time with me, a law student who looks like them, you can see the gears turn and ideas spark as they begin to consider their own potential.”
For Sutton-Jackson, mentoring others is a way of paying it forward. “Growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, I was that inquisitive, argumentative little kid who was constantly told by family and teachers that I would make a great lawyer one day,” he says. “With the tireless support of my parents, the Prep for Prep leadership development program, and my many basketball coaches and summer camp counselors, I grew into a young man with a love for philosophy, a passion for discussion and analysis, and a sharp focus on attending law school.”
St. John’s Law was a natural fit for Sutton-Jackson, who wanted to be in New York City, close to his parents and three younger siblings. “St. John’s has a tremendous alumni network and offers a wide range of courses and programs that help students build practical skills while learning the law, like the Economic Justice Clinic that I’ll participate in next year,” he shares. Even as he devoted himself fully to his 1L studies, Sutton-Jackson looked for ways to give back and help others.
Kamille Dean, the director of diversity and inclusion at St. John’s Law, guided him to the Diversity Pipeline Instructor position. A second opportunity came later in the year through Professor Elaine M. Chiu, who coordinates the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students, an award-winning pipeline initiative of the Law School’s Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights. For more than a decade, in partnership with colleges and universities across the country, the Ron Brown Prep Program has helped students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented groups—who are often the first in their families to attend college—apply to law school and pursue legal careers.
Professor Chiu asked Sutton-Jackson to be a teaching assistant with the DiscoverLaw.org PLUS Program/Ron Brown Prep Program Foundations, an offering of the larger Ron Brown Prep Program designed specifically for male students of color who have finished at least one year of college. “Seeing it as another major opportunity to be a mentor and to contribute to further diversifying law schools and the legal field as a whole, I said yes right away,” says Sutton-Jackson.
A few weeks into the program, he knows he made the right decision. “This year’s Foundations cohort is an extremely talented and motivated group of young men,” Sutton-Jackson says. “They bring a great mix of perspectives. There are students from Mississippi, New Orleans, HBCU’s, criminal justice majors, and fellow philosophy majors. The mutual learning and cultural sharing that’s taking place is beautiful to witness and to be a part of.”
In addition to teaching the Foundations cohort, Sutton-Jackson is working as an intern at a Manhattan law firm this summer. He sees both experiences as steps to a meaningful career in the law. “Down the road, I’d love to work in intellectual property, especially in entertainment and media,” he shares. “That said, I’m open to other types of transactional work as well. Whatever practice area I pursue, I know I’ll continue paying it forward by using my resources and leverage to engage and uplift my own and other underserved communities. To me, that’s the essence of being a lawyer.”