Kendrick Peterson ’24

JD/MPP program
Education: University of Notre Dame
Affiliations: EBCLC Tenants Rights Workshop; Law Students of African Descent; Queer Caucus; Mock Trial Team

Black male wearing glasses, suit jacket, checkered shirt, bowtie, pride pin, cross necklaceI grew up in a military family and was the first one that had the opportunity to attend selective schools. Going into my college admissions process, my mom was like, ‘I’m going to try everything possible to ensure that you make it.’ I remember her taking out a US News and World Report book from the library. And she opened it to the top 30 institutions in the country, and she was like, ‘These are it. You’re applying to all of these.’ She made it her mission to get me into one of those spaces because she knew that it wasn’t only the pedigree of an institution, but also the people I’d interact with and the network I’d make that would influence the trajectory of my life. And she was right. That has had a big impact on my professional arc because I realized that if it wasn’t for my mom and that book, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Why isn’t this information available to everyone? Why was I the only one out of my neighborhood to have these doors opened to me? These questions are central to the reason I am pursuing a dual Masters of Public Policy and JD (MPP/JD) here at Berkeley.

I ended up going to the University of Notre Dame for undergrad. I studied political science with dual-majors in business economics and public policy, and those areas kind of meshed to develop my desire to focus my career on making an impact in marginalized communities. 

But that’s pretty vague, right? There’s lots of different ways to “make an impact.” I think if you want to truly impact the individuals and issues that you care about you have to approach from a multifaceted, kind of roundabout way. That’s how I ended up applying for the dual MPP/JD program, because I wanted to gather as many tools as I could equip myself with to do the work I hope to do.

Both the law school and the policy school (Goldman School of Public Policy) have a lot of strengths, but also some very distinct weaknesses. Let’s say you’re interested in impacting environmental policy. When you start law school, your first year is basically all doctrinal. You’re not going to have time to focus on the issues you really care about because you are spending all your time just trying to survive Civil Procedure. The policy school is the inverse, you’re learning how law and economics impacts policy and people, but also that to make a real impact and change policy, you need to be able to litigate, advocate on behalf of organizations and companies in the courtroom, draft legislation, etc. So the dual program fills in those gaps and work strongly together. 

When I finally got to Berkeley I was incredibly excited to be here. But I looked around, and I was the only Black MPP/JD in the entire university. In fact, I’m not aware of any other Black graduates of the dual degree program. And I just find that so interesting, because the law and policy have such a substantial impact on communities of color, and specifically Black communities. Why am I the only one here? What’s stopping individuals from being in these spaces that can help lead to more racial equity? That’s why I’m specifically interested in higher education litigation and advocacy on behalf of individuals trying to enter into higher education. I’m really passionate about these issues because it’s so clear to me how important access to these higher education spaces is to developing leaders and the trickle-down impact it can have on communities.

I started the MPP coursework virtually last year, then I got to start my 1L year here at Berkeley Law in person this fall. One thing that really surprised me about law school is that I didn’t realize that I’d be able to do real lawyering work right away. I joined East Bay Community Law Center’s Tenants Rights Workshop basically as soon as the semester started and from day one I was literally the first point of contact for people’s housing needs. If someone’s being evicted, if someone’s being harassed or someone’s struggling substantially in their housing situation, it is me and a supervising attorney helping this real person in crisis. And that is such an incredible feeling.

There’s this quote I love, and I’m not sure who said it, but it’s basically that the general arc of time bends towards justice. If I’ve learned anything in my experience so far after one year at the policy school and one semester under my belt at the law school, it’s that you don’t just hang out and things change on their own. There are actors that are actively helping move the needle. And so as someone considering a JD or a dual degree, you need to ask yourself, are you ok putting that trust and that faith in someone else to make the change happen? Or do you want to be one of those individuals trying to bend that arc? For me, I couldn’t sit and hope that someone else does the work when I can try and make the impact myself

That’s also how I ended up running for 1L class representative for the Student Association of Berkeley Law. One day early in the semester I was with my now co-president Sewit Beraki, and it was super hot and we were desperately looking for an umbrella and couldn’t find one anywhere. Then a friend of ours was looking for a gender neutral bathroom and it took us like an hour to find one. There were always long lines for the only filtered water station. I kept noticing these very small things across the law school where I was like, ‘Oh, we could probably do something about that.’ So we ran on a platform of just making everybody’s life a little bit easier day to day. Because how are you going to make broad, systemic policy change if you’re about to pass out in the hallway?