Justin Brooks ’21 & Serena Nichols ’21

Justin Brooks is a graduate of Morehouse College (2018); Serena Nichols is a graduate of CSU Sacramento (2018). Both are members of Berkeley Law’s chapter of Law Students of African Descent and co-founders of the podcast, Blacklisted. They recently recorded a conversation about race and identity as part of the Henderson Center’s 20th anniversary oral history project with StoryCorps (audio coming soon).

Serena:  The transition into law school was pretty startling. There were a lot of things in class that I wanted to talk about—social issues and the way the law affects people of color—but there wasn’t time. We had to filter it all down into one bland objective “rule.” So I felt kind of disillusioned.

Justin:  Same.

Serena: I still really liked it, especially the people I was meeting, but it was hard. And then Justin approached me about doing a podcast.

Justin: I wanted to start a podcast because I had a lot of people reaching out to me with questions about law school and what I did to get to Berkeley. I think the barriers to entry for black students are really high and, especially coming from my background—growing up in Mississippi and going to Morehouse for undergrad, a place like Berkeley can be isolating.

One day in class Serena made a comment , and I thought she’d be a great person to talk about these very pressing issues that get cast aside in the 1L curriculum.

This was early in first semester. We got together to brainstorm and recorded the first episode of Blacklisted then and there.

Serena:  One of our central ideas for the podcast was to fill the gaps of what we were missing in the law school classroom; to talk about the real world issues of race and identity that underlie basically every case we read.

We also wanted to give advice to incoming students of color. Like, what do we know now that we wish we knew coming in? What’s the application process like? What is 1L really like? What classes did we take? What is it like interacting with law professors? We’re in a really good position here as students at a great law school. So, I feel like we have valuable information to share, because law school is a mystery to many people of color.

Justin: Where I’m from, for black and brown people, our experience with the law is one that’s always negative. I didn’t know what contracts or trusts and estates were. I just knew crime happened in my city. I knew justice was different based on your skin color. And so I came to law school hoping that I could make it better for us. Maybe become a professor and have an early impact on law students who are going to run our country and create policies and initiatives that will help communities of color.

I want black students who are thinking about law school to listen to Blacklisted and see themselves in me. To be encouraged that they can do it, too. I also think it’s important just to contribute to the archive of black students at Berkeley Law. We want to have something accessible for years to come, for future students to look back and say, “What were they experiencing in 2019?”

We’ve recorded three episodes so far, about 40 minutes each. We wish we could do them more frequently, but it’s hard to find time.

Serena: We were totally naive about what goes into making a podcast. It’s not just hitting record.

Justin: There was a huge learning curve; figuring out what microphones to use, where to record, what software to use to edit, how to make it sound cohesive. Early on we were over-editing because we were like, “Oh, we don’t want to say this,” or, “I don’t like how I sound.” Now we’re just talking candidly to our audience. I think that’s what they really want to hear anyway, our authentic insight.

Serena:  It’s kind of weird to think of our classmates listening to these intimate conversations where we are being really vulnerable. But I think a lot of people struggle in law school and just don’t want to be the ones to say it. So, I hope Blacklisted can be a source of camaraderie for all our classmates, and law students at other universities, too.  

Justin: In future episodes we definitely want to get more students involved. We hope future students will want to take it over when we are gone, so it’s a legacy that keeps going.

Listen to Blacklisted here. If you’d like to get involved, contact Justin and Serena.