Last month, the New York City Bar awarded Tatehona Kelly its C. Banbridge Smith Scholarship. She earned the honor by distinguishing herself in a competitive pool for her character, intelligence, and promising aptitude for the law, among other qualifications.
The recognition is well-deserved. Just months before arriving at St. John’s Law, Kelly was teaching social studies at John Dewey High School in Gravesend, Brooklyn. She loved the work, which she started right out of college as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member. After fulfilling her two-year commitment to TFA, Kelly stayed on for another two years and excelled as an educator. She helped to launch the school’s law academy and mock trial team and created electives focused on multi-culturalism in America.
Her teaching experiences reignited Kelly’s longtime dream of becoming a lawyer. “Being a black woman, coming from a working-class background, working my way through college, I always saw something inherently wrong and unfair with the way our country is built,” she says. “I want to address that wrongness and bridge the cracks that I recognize in my students, in my parents, and in myself. The truest way I can do that is to use the same weapon that has historically been wielded and codified against communities like mine: the law.”
It was a fellow TFA alumna and co-worker, Brittany Clark ‘22, who encouraged Kelly to apply to St. John’s Law. “I remember visiting campus and genuinely feeling that the Law School fit my personality and where I was at in my life,” Kelly shares. “When I got my admissions letter and saw that Assistant Dean Alicia Meehan wrote a nice little note about my personal statement mentioning that she is a TFA alum, it came full circle for me.”
Looking forward to her 2L year, Kelly is eager to explore a variety of courses and co-curricular offerings.
“International law and human rights are areas of law that really pique my interest,” she says. "I’m also very excited to be a part of the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Clinic, and hope to take the Race and Gender course and participate In the Glasgow summer exchange program.”
Kelly appreciates that the C. Bainbridge Smith Scholarship will help her meet her educational goals. “I don’t have other lawyers in my family, so there's no pathway or blueprint for me to follow,” she explains. “Hopefully, I’ll get to be that for someone else in the future, and this generous scholarship signals to me that I’m moving in the right direction. It's an honor to be recognized.”