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OurStory: African American Alumni of UF Levin College of Law (1958-2020)

Oral history participants, images from left to right. First row: Allison Bethel, George Starke, Jr., Hazel Land, Jeanelle Bronson. Second row: Jason Fenwick, Josef Ghosn, Kevin Edwards. Third row: Stephan Mickle. Fourth row: Octavius Holliday, Rashel Johnson, Sean Shaw, W. George Allen. Fifth row: Wilbert Vancol, Yolanda Cash Jackson.

George Starke (Entered 1958, LLD ‘19)

Four years after segregation was declared unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education, Mr. George H. Starke, Jr. enrolled in the University of Florida in September 1958 as the first African American student admitted to the 105-year-old institution. Mr. Starke was 27 years old at the time and pursuing his dream of a law degree. Ultimately, the physical and emotional pressures of being the only African-American student at UF took their toll, and Mr. Starke withdrew after just three semesters to take a job on Wall Street. In May of 2019, Mr. Starke was honored by the University of Florida for his sacrifice and contribution with the Doctorate of Laws degree.

W. George Allen (J.D. ‘62)

W. George Allen, the first African American graduate from the UF Levin College of Law, made a selfless choice by attending UF. He had been accepted to Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley but chose to study law in the South to open doors for other students and to be nearer to the heart of the Civil Rights movement. A graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Allen served as a special agent in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps before attending UF. After graduating from UF Law, Allen moved to Fort Lauderdale, where he established a legal practice and helped to integrate public schools, housing, and parks in Broward County. In 1988, he became president of the Broward County Bar Association — the first African American president of a major bar association in Florida. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus of UF in 2000 and awarded the National Conference for Community and Justice Silver Medallion Award in 2001. A member of the National Bar Association Hall of Fame, Allen served on Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees from 2005-2007.

W. George Allen passed away on November 7, 2019. We honor his life and appreciate his sacrifice and legacy. In 2012, Mr. Allen was interviewed by Marna Weston with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

Hazel M. Land (J.D. ‘73)

Hazel Land made her impact on UF Law when she became the first Black woman to graduate from the institution. She began law school in 1970, the semester after Judge Mickle graduated, but before he returned to teach. Mrs. Land is from Brooksville, Florida. She was raised during the period of Jim Crow segregation. Her upbringing influenced her career and her leadership. After graduating high school, she followed her sister to attend Tuskegee University, a historically Black university in Alabama. After graduating, she went on to become a teacher, educating students in Alabama, New Jersey, and Florida. In 1960, President Kennedy launched the Peace Corps, and Hazel became a member. She served in the Philippines and Nigeria. Upon returning to the United States, her life of service continued as she became a pioneer with the NAACP. She established a chapter in her hometown, Brooksville, and worked with NAACP leadership in Tampa. She grew with the organization to eventually become the State Director in Tennessee and the State Secretary in Florida. This work wasn’t enough, and one day she decided she wanted to further serve her community by learning the law and teaching the Black community their rights. It was then that she applied to law school and chose to change UF Law’s history. Hazel Land graduated from UF Law in 1973. She is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.

Judge Stephan Mickle (J.D. 1970)

Stephan P. Mickle is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Judge Mickle was the first African American student to graduate from the University of Florida, and the second African American student to graduate from UF Law. In this interview, Judge Mickle speaks candidly about his experiences integrating the University and the support of family and friends. Judge Mickle also reflects on all of his life experiences and historical changes over the time of his distinguished career. Lastly, Judge Mickle emphasized that career options are limitless with a law degree.

Jeanelle Bronson (J.D.’78)

Jeanelle Bronson was accepted to Levin College of Law alongside her husband in the class of 1978. Currently, she serves as a partner with Grower, Ketcham, Rutherford, Bronson, Eide & Telan, P.A. In this interview, Mrs. Bronson discussed her early childhood education and her trajectory as a career attorney. She attended legally segregated elementary, middle high and high schools (and spent her final high school years at integrated Edgewater High School in Orange County). At UF Law, Mrs. Bronson won the book award for Evidence, Criminal Law, and Legal Writing in her first year. After graduation, Mrs. Bronson completed a two-year clerkship with Honorable John A. Reed, United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. Later, she became the first Black woman to make partner in a large legal firm in Orange County.

Allison Bethel (J.D. ‘84)

Allison Bethel manages the legal clinic at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago focused on housing discrimination and civil litigation. In the interview, Ms. Bethel discussed highlights of UF Law in the 1980s and how the College helped her create her ideology as an attorney. As a passionate advocate, Mrs. Bethel expressed that at the time of her graduation, African American students were often typecast into certain types of legal trajectories and careers. She was determined to chart her own path. For present and future African American African American attorneys, Mrs. Bethel relayed the impetus to explore, to prosper and follow one’s passion of advocacy.

Yolanda Cash Jackson (J.D.‘90)

Yolanda Cash Jackson is a proud double gator and first-generation college student. Mrs. Cash Jackson started her education as UF Law as a second career. Upon being admitted, her main goal was to obtain a Juris Doctorate to elevate herself in the professional realm while also assisting her family, simultaneously making a better life for herself and her family. A non-traditional law student, Cash Jackson worked throughout her time as a student.

Jason Fenwick (J.D. ‘97)

Jason Fenwick is a Partner and Director of the Global Advisory Group at the business consulting firm of Windsor, Wyeth & Ward, LLC and works primarily in Washington, DC and Miami, Florida. He has worked in multiple industries, including: manufacturing, publishing, consumer products, chemicals, homeland security, banking, mortgage banking, real estate, hospitality, and franchising. His clients range from small start-ups to billion-dollar, multinational companies. Mr. Fenwick spent his childhood and adolescence in Ohio. His parents met at Howard University. His father was a dentist but also held many other jobs. His mother was a nurse. Following his parents, he attended an HBCU for his undergraduate degree at Hampton University. After working, Mr. Fenwick would attend the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He has always been a determined individual, which is evident by stories he shared from childhood which led to his pursuit of a law degree.

Rashel Johnson (J.D. ‘03)

Rashel Johnson graduated from Florida State University with a degree in English Language and Literature. Johnson’s tenure at UF Law began after taking a year off and working as a newspaper editor. Her time at UF Law ran parallel with a spotlight on national affirmative action policy. Johnson and other Black students would be met with notes on their desks stating that they were only at UF Law because of affirmative action. Tensions were high. Johnson found comfort in the Black community and allies within White communities. Upon graduating from UF Law in 2003, Johnson began working for the State Attorney’s Office in the 8th Judicial Circuit as a prosecutor. Johnson is currently a Supervising Attorney for the Guardian Ad Litem Program in the 5th Circuit. Johnson’s key piece of advice for any Black student at Levin is to run your own race.

Octavius Holliday (J.D. ‘02)

Octavius Holliday began his interview explaining that he was a non-traditional student. Growing up in a predominately working-class, Black neighborhood in Central Florida, he was surrounded by two groups of peers: those who were college-bound and those who were jail-bound. After high school, Mr. Holliday attended Duke University where he was a football athlete. Octavius was not admitted to UF Law on his first attempt: after his rejection letter came, he wrote the school a scathing letter explaining how it erred in not admitting him for the Spring semester in 2000. Following this letter, a professor reviewed his application and took a chance on him by granting Mr. Holliday admission to UF Law for the Fall 2000 semester. During a BLSA gala, Mr. Holliday met Judge Mickle, and the encounter left a mark on Octavius’ time at UF. Throughout the interview, Mr. Holliday discussed race, justice, and crime. He shared a profound dialogue on his sense of justice and his career path to prosecutor.

Sean Shaw (J.D. ‘03)

In 2018, Florida-native Sean Shaw made history as the Florida Democratic Party’s first African American nominee for Attorney General. This nominee came after years of serving as a zealous advocate for communities in need. One might say that Shaw was destined to accomplish great things. His father, Leander J. Shaw Jr., would become the first Black Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Mr. Shaw grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and attended Princeton University for his undergraduate degree. In 2003, Mr. Shaw received his Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. It was not until he became Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate that Mr. Shaw felt he found his calling. He continued to fight for the people of Florida in his role as State Representative for District 61 in Tampa, Florida. Today, Shaw remains a zealous advocate in his many roles.

Wilbert Vancol (J.D. ‘11)

Wilbert Vancol also has a non-traditional law student narrative. A double-gator and first-generation student, he describes his undergraduate experience as a “whirlwind.” Law school was not his first career, and UF Law was not his first school. He transferred to UF Law from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) Law. He explained that his law school experience was consistently shaped by his involvement in organizations. A member of the Florida Moot Court Team, he competed as one of the Final Four competitors. Because his journey at UF Law began with Moot Court, his experiences with the team made his time at UF enjoyable. He was involved with BLSA, but only as a member and looked more for organic relationships with his fellow Black students.

Josef Ghosn (J.D. ‘16)

Josef Ghosn is a First Amendment Attorney in New York City, NY. During Mr. Ghosn’s time at UF Law, he was the Editor in Chief of the Florida Journal of International Law (FJIL), and a winner in the ABA’s Media Law Moot Court Competition. Josef spoke about how powerful it was to have a managing staff on FJIL that consisted mainly of women and people of color. He was highly influenced and supported by the BLSA community from the beginning of his law school career. His orientation leader was another black student that ended up becoming a mentor to him, introducing him to BLSA and helping him to remain focused on studies early on as a first-year. Josef addressed the contrasting dynamics from big law in Orlando, to working at a smaller firm with mainly women, and then working with media lawyers in New York. And lastly, he spoke highly of the Gator nation’s willingness to help push his career forward.

Kevin Edwards (J.D. ‘17)

Kevin Edwards currently serves as a Judge Advocate General, United States Military. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy for his undergraduate degree. During this time he was also an athlete, playing football and running track. After graduation from the Naval Academy in 2011, Mr. Edwards pursued law school at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Mr. Edwards credits his parents for helping to shape him into a successful, responsible litigator. In this interview, Kevin shares his narrative from childhood through his current life in Washington, DC.

From L to R Vieux Toure, Nikole Miller, Janielle McPhail, Dr. Diedre Houchen, Ebony Love, Brianna Holness and Juwan Parrish
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Diedre Houchen
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