Leaders are lead problem solvers. A leader’s vision moves beyond the limitations of a problem to a vision for creating change. Evangeline M. Mitchell, founder of the National Pre-Law Diversity Initiatives, Inc., is a lead problem solver who is promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. For over a decade, she has committed her work to creating a pipeline for aspiring law students from diverse backgrounds to not only strive to reach their dreams of becoming an attorney but to thrive. Her publications, conferences, and summits provide students with the tools to work effectively, think critically, and advance social justice.
1) What does leadership mean to you?
Mitchell defines leadership as an action-oriented process. “Leadership is the ability to see a problem and then seek a solution and ACT – without sitting back and hoping and waiting for someone else to tackle it.” The process of leadership does not end here with discover of your individual sense of agency. The next step is connecting with others and building new partnerships. Mitchell recognizes the importance of empowering others to lead. Her favorite leadership quote captures the essence of participatory leadership where each person plays an integral role in advancing a collective vision of change: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams
2) What is your passion?
Mitchell’s area of passion is the law school diversity pipeline. Her fire and passion comes from personal experience. She is a first-generation college and law school graduate. She recalls experiencing a lot of the same pitfalls as other diverse law students who are from first-generation and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. According to Mitchell: “The process of trying to become a lawyer was a very painful process – and when you don’t have the information and mentorship, you can feel blindsided. It was all overwhelming – from navigating the admissions process alone to the academic demands to not knowing how to process racial issues in law school and in legal work environments. My experiences and feeling very alone and alienated in them at a young age made me extremely sensitive to the issues that others from similar backgrounds face.”
Her work disrupts this cycle of pain and frustration by providing the next generation with the tools to succeed in law school and beyond in their future careers. She made a promise and pledged a commitment to herself to make the sacrifices and do the necessary work to help others cross those hurdles through giving them early access to good insider information, resources and networking opportunities so they would fully understand what they were getting themselves into – and then if it was still something they wanted to do, they would have the tools and contacts needed to help them persist and succeed.
3) Why wait?
It is tempting to see an issue (like increasing diversity in the Bar) and rationalize why you cannot make an impact. It could be that you believe the magnitude of this problem is too large or maybe you feel that you are not experienced enough to make a difference. Mitchell moved beyond excuses to strategic action. As a law student, Mrs. Mitchell began serving as a leader and social entrepreneur. In her second year of law school, she began working on a book for African Americans interested in law school. This book has blossomed into a series of books which serve as a practical guide for law school success and additional books are in the works. She also has hosted and organized major national conferences for aspiring lawyers and several other efforts. By planting these small seeds, she has reaped a harvest with the founding of a non-profit dedicated to the diversity pipeline called National Pre-Law Diversity Initiatives, Inc.
4) If not now, when?
Now is the time to create change. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” Mitchell recognized that she could not wait idly for someone else to create a diverse pipeline. Time would be wasted and more students would experience the sense of despair that she had earlier experienced. Instead, she decided to take action through small steps as she built a comprehensive approach for empowering diverse students to succeed academically and professionally. “Do what you can. Just do something. We all have a role to play.” She challenges you to contribute your time, talent or treasure to those causes that are important to you.
Mitchell offers these words of encouragement: “If there is something you care about, make a commitment to do something now- starting with today. And choose to live a meaningful and purpose-driven life where you care about people and issues that are much greater than yourself.”
Leaders unveil the power in the power in their hands by serving as lead problem solvers. They recognize that no problem is too big to solve if you have the creativity to envision possible solutions and courage to take action. This is the type of leadership needed to address the social justice challenges of our time. Evangeline Mitchell is building a new pipeline of diverse talent and training the next generation of leaders.
Dr. Artika R. Tyner is an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas College of Education, Leadership, and Counseling.