The top half of a maple leaf in orange, yellow and brown, with Adinkra visual symbols originating in West Africa

Feb. 10, 2021

Public service mindset fuels law student's desire to push for positive change

President of Black Law Students' Association knew being silent was not an option

For Keshia Holloman-Dawson, law school was not in her immediate plans. She started her undergrad at the University of Calgary in archaeology and Greek and Roman studies, before taking some time off to help take care of her grandmother.

“I wanted to be Tomb Raider,” the second-year law student says with a laugh. “My mom always said I should become a lawyer. It’s funny how mothers seem to know you better than you know yourself so when I went back to university I switched to Law and Society.”

While she may not be travelling around the world searching for ancient treasures, Holloman-Dawson enjoys exploring the many facets of law and policy during her studies in the joint JD/MPP (Master of Public Policy) program, with a particular interest in environmental law.

“I am going to be the first lawyer in my family,” she says. “My mom is a paramedic, my dad is a correctional officer, and my other dad is a landscaper. I grew up with a good understanding of public service, and I think I can bring that to my legal and public policy studies.”

Keshia Holloman-Dawson

Second-year law student Keshia Holloman-Dawson.

Public service mindset drives work

That public service mindset is fueling Holloman-Dawson’s time as president of the Calgary chapter of the Black Law Students' Association (BLSA). This past summer, the BLSA team launched some key initiatives for the law school through their Calls to Action, including the new Black Students' Admissions Process. She has also been meeting with key stakeholders to establish scholarships and internship opportunities for Black law students.

Encouraged by an upper-year student when she was in her first year, the opportunity to lead the BLSA pushed Holloman-Dawson out of her shell.

“During my first week of law school, Demi Okuboyejo, JD’20, was there and she approached David Isilebo and me about joining the BLSA. Demi understood that law school could be hard when there are not a lot of people who look like you or share some similar experiences, and that can make you feel isolated. I wanted to continue that legacy, to make people feel welcomed, and that they had someone to talk to.”

Recent events created inspiration

Holloman-Dawson goes on to explain that events of the summer of 2020 were a strong driver for her push to create change within the law school.

I was just sad and angry, and I didn’t feel like I could just sit and be the quiet student in the room anymore. I really needed to do something so I got on the phone with David and (third-year student) Bety Tesfay and we started talking about creating the calls to action.

“It started out of a lot of pain and anger and sadness, but we wanted to transform that into something positive, and possibly transformative,” she adds.

She was rewarded for her hard work when she was named a 2021 winner of UCalgary's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion awards.

Throughout all of her hard work, Holloman-Dawson hopes that other students see the possibilities to affect change in their education and in society, to take control of their destinies and to achieve their goals.

"People doubt themselves way too often. Take a chance on yourself."

Keshia Holloman-Dawson won a 2021 EDI Award

Keshia Holloman-Dawson was a 2021 Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award winner for her work with the Black Law Students' Association.

Find more Black History Month events and stories from UCalgary.   

Black History Month is a time to learn more about the Canadian stories and the many other important contributions of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, and about the diversity of Black communities in Canada and their importance to the history of this country. 

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