Giving Voice to the Voiceless
During her nearly two years as a student at the Syracuse University College of Law, Tracy Acquan L’24 has sought out practical experiences that reinforce her interest in helping others.
She has worked at the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic, where she helps veterans secure disability benefits, and as a procedural advisor to Syracuse undergraduates who need assistance with the student conduct process. She was recently named editor in chief of the Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, the first Black student to hold the post.
“We help shed light on human rights issues and violations globally,” she says. “My goal is to use the journal to give voice to the voiceless.”
Acquan spent last summer interning with Syracuse City Court Judge Vanessa Bogan, a position she held through the Franklin Williams Judicial Commission. “The commission itself is tasked with shedding light on the issues that people of color face within the legal profession,” she says. “It was like two internships in one, working for the judicial commission and working for the judge.”
Currently, Acquan interns in both the Federal Public Defenders Office and the City of Syracuse’s Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, which ensures that property owners comply with building codes. “Its goal is to create a safe and healthy environment for Syracuse residents,” she says. “I like being an advocate and resource for people. A lot of the work I’ve done is helping people assert their rights.”
In December 2022, Acquan was named the first recipient of the Syracuse Black Law Alumni Collective x William H. Johnson Endowed Scholarship, named for the first Black graduate of the College of Law. “It’s humbling, being the inaugural recipient of a scholarship in honor of the first African American graduate of the school,” she says. “It’s so big.”
Equally meaningful is the fact the scholarship was created and funded by Black law alumni. “These are people who understand my experience,” she says. “I feel like they are pushing for my success even if they don’t know me.”
The scholarship, the first of its kind at the College of Law and within the Our Time Has Come Program, was spearheaded by Felicia Collins Ocumarez L’98, G’98, general counsel and chief sustainability officer at the African Asset Finance Company.
After attending her 20-year law school reunion in 2018, Collins Ocumarez helped start the Syracuse Black Law Collective (Syracuse BLAC) to serve as a bridge between alumni law professionals and Syracuse law students—the next generation of African American jurists and legal practitioners.
The group’s first initiative was to launch a fund drive for a $150,000 endowment to provide need-based scholarships for underrepresented students at the College of Law on a perpetual basis. Collins Ocumarez made a major gift toward the scholarship, named for Johnson.
“The Syracuse Black Law Alumni Collective x William H. Johnson Endowed Scholarship advocates for civil and human rights in pursuit of social justice in honor of the first Black Syracuse College of Law graduate, William Herbert Johnson,” says Collins Ocumarez. “The University must continue to honor its commitment to advancing social impact through OTHC scholarships,” she says.
Acquan plans to pay that forward. A native of the Bronx, she earned her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she majored in philosophy with a minor in law in society. She worked for three years in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Correspondence during the de Blasio administration, serving as intern coordinator and responding to constituents to direct them to resources and help solve their problems. “I always wanted to go to law school and working in public service solidified that,” she says.
Now, as an Our Time Has Come Scholar, Acquan wants to serve as a resource to undergraduates in the program. “I love mentorship,” she says. “This scholarship is about alumni giving back to support law students like me, but it’s also allowed me to give back and mentor undergraduate students interested in pursuing law,” she says. “That gives me joy.”