Harvard Law student explains Wakanda-inspired photo shoot: 'We have challenged, reshaped, and reclaimed this space'

Harvard Law students standing in solidarity with a Wakanda-inspired pose to empower others. (Photo: Will Sterling)

Over the years, Harvard Law School’s past relating to its troubling ties with slavery in America has been revealed, and the educational institution has faced a backlash for its historical rough patch. Since then, a plaque has been placed on the campus to honor the enslaved people whose labor created wealth and made it possible for the school to open its doors in 1817. Today, a group of black Harvard Law students have united for an empowering photo series that further demonstrates change, diversity against the odds, and how much the institution has evolved.

On May 6, Jazzmin Carr, a third-year law student, shared a powerful photo on Instagram of nine black women from the Harvard Law School dressed in all black with gold accents and their arms crossed in front of their chests. The caption read, “For Colored Girls [who Conquered Harvard Law/ When Settling for America’s Trash Patriarchy Wasn’t] Enuf.’••••• Ladies of Harvard Black Law Students Association’s Class of 2018.”  Carr also added the hashtag #WakandaForever. Since posting, the image has received over 1,000 likes with inspiring comments such as “Educated, Black Women on the horizon!!!”

The women in the photo posted are members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association (Harvard BLSA). Carr, who is the organization’s 2017-2018 president, wanted to find a special way to honor the association’s 50th anniversary, and she did exactly that.

“As we honored and reflected on the rich history and trailblazers of our organization, I wanted to bring our current members together for a visual display of where and who we are today,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Because a 50th anniversary is often referred to as a ‘Golden Anniversary,’ using gold accents was an easy choice. I wanted the concept, colors, and styling to subtly represent something deeper and ultimately decided on ‘Black Gold’ as the concept. The phrase ‘black gold’ is often informally used to describe oil as a natural resource that is black and worth a great deal of value, often driving nations to war to protect it. Black gold is one of the few times in the English lexicon that association with blackness carries a positive connotation, let alone value.”

After emailing BLSA’s membership the proposed concept and the significance behind it, Carr was welcomed to proceed along with positive feedback and excitement surrounding the upcoming photo shoot. “In these particular shots, we captured and showcased different facets of black girl magic from across the African diaspora, as a group made up of mothers, wives, seasoned executives, activists, community organizers, entrepreneurs, and a veteran in addition to scholars. The idea was for us to express our not only being self-assured, dignified, and resolute, but also soft, compassionate, and vulnerable — as black women are dynamic, complex, and multifaceted with strength and depth.” The photo shoot took nearly two-and-a-half hours to complete, and the results have been highly praised.

Harvard Law School women posing with yellow flowers in their hair that represent “friendship, filial love, warmth, compassion, and gentleness,” as explained by Jazzmin Carr. (Photo: Will Sterling)

When holding up their Black Panther movie Wakanda-inspired crossed arms, Carr explains that the idea was to “merge the world of Wakanda with our reality as black law students creating space and culture at our institution.”

She adds, “I personally believe that we do the power of representation in mainstream media a disservice by relegating Black Panther‘s Wakanda to only fiction. In our society, media exploitation and propaganda through fictional film, caricature, satire, and the like helped propel and fasten oppressive institutions like slavery and Jim Crow through the mischaracterization and denigration of black identities. Black Panther, while indeed fictional, was influenced by our very real African heritages and has been an important step in shifting the controlling narratives and discourse that have long been damaging to our community.”

In addition to the organization’s Wakanda-style photo, other images from the series include members standing in formation with yellow flowers to accessorize their hairstyles that represent “friendship, filial love, warmth, compassion, and gentleness,” according to Carr. Each photo is paired with an affirming caption sourced from revolutionary thinkers, writers, and activists such as Ntozake Shange, Malcolm X, and Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.

Second to Howard University’s School of Law, Harvard Law School has graduated the most black law students in the United States and has one of the largest chapters of the BLSA in the nation. These are accolades that Carr doesn’t take lightly, and graduating from such a prestigious university is a profound honor, as well as one of the most transformative moments of her life. Reflecting on her first day of classes this year, she remembers witnessing her institution publicly acknowledge being involved indirectly and financially tied to the slaveholding South.

“That moment, while infinitely small in the scheme of the horrors of slavery and oppression that our ancestors faced, served as a reminder of why I chose law school to begin with — to help uplift the oppressed, center the marginalized, and transform communities through opportunity,” she says. “Black Harvard Law students have not idly passed through and been complicit in this space that was not designed nor historically open to us. We have challenged, reshaped, and reclaimed this space that black lives, black ingenuity, and black sacrifice created the foundation for. I am proud to be a part of a community that stands for that, and my family is proud of that as well. This is my ‘heritage’ degree.”

Members of the Harvard Black Law Students Association powerfully posing on school grounds. (Photo: Will Sterling)

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