This year has been the best year of my life thus far. I was able to visit the African continent—a desire I’ve had for a while that was fulfilled this past summer; I truly feel confident in my approach to law school, a confidence I thought I would not attain; and I am in the process of cultivating a beautiful relationship. Life is good. I am over half-way finished with law school and I feel that I am on the right path. I am walking in my purpose. There is a threefold challenge now: I must continue to glean every piece of wisdom I can from every experience law school provides; I must intentionally prepare for life after law school; and I must resist the temptation to succumb to discouragement and burnout. If I can do these things, I know that I will be fine.
Life Experiences Made Possible By Law School
Law school has offered me the opportunity to experience, among other things, new travel destinations and new work environments. This past summer I was able to visit Cape Town, South Africa through a study abroad program with Howard University School of Law. In Cape Town, I studied Comparative Constitutional Law and Comparative Immigration Law at the University of the Western Cape. The most striking part about my academic experience was learning about how the struggle to end South African apartheid molded the South African Constitution and South African constitutional jurisprudence. Black South Africans were robbed of their dignity under the apartheid regime and relegated to second-class citizenship.
After the fall of the apartheid government, the modern constitutional framers made it a point to acknowledge the inherent dignity of the person and made it a right to have human dignity respected and protected. Using this right as a foundational principle, the South African Constitutional Court has rendered decisions that reaffirmed human dignity such as outlawing the death penalty and allowing individuals who have constructed homes on unused private land to be safe from eviction. It was interesting to see first-hand how the historical context played into constitutional jurisprudence.
My experience in South Africa beyond the academic setting was downright amazing. I find that while traveling, I am granted the super power of ultra reflection. In the short span of six weeks, I had filled an entire journal with my thoughts about where I was in life and where I wanted to be. I was able to reflect on these things all the while enjoying the scenery of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. A large part of my reflective capacity went toward understanding the concept of UBUNTU. I had heard about the concept early in my visit to the continent, and understood it as part of the reason South Africa was able to stick together after the apartheid struggle. Instead of resorting to revenge after the black people had won the war against apartheid, the people decided to embrace UBUNTU and the country remained intact.
But what does UBUNTU mean? My favorite translation of the Nguni Bantu term is “I am, because we are.” Another translation that I liked was “to care.” It is essentially a verb, an act of treating an individual with kindness, respecting the inherent dignity of another individual, by nature of the fact that we both share the human experience. In other words, I derive my own meaning from those I share the community with, and thus I owe them a duty of care tantamount to kindness. This type of thought allowed the South African people to surmount the primal desire for revenge. To recognize that although atrocities were committed by a system for the benefit of a distinct subsection of South African society, that subsection still had something of value to offer society. South Africa embraced the hurt that existed, sought truth and began to reconcile the hurts that occurred in the past.
My South African Professor of UBUNTU was a 13-year-old boy I met while exploring VA Waterfront; his name was Likhona I’Themba Killa. Likhona walked up to me while I was exploring the mall and politely said “Sir, would you buy me some food?” I was on the phone at the time, but decided to hang up and engage the young boy wearing the windbreaker, camo pants, scarf, and gumboots. His voice was soft and his face was subdued. I replied, “Of course bro. What do you want?” His response was “Chicken and chips.”
Likhona and I walked around for a little while searching for places that sold chicken and chips, and I learned a bit more about who he was and where he was from. Likhona was from Langa Township. Coincidentally, I had visited Langa the week before. I was astounded by the juxtaposition of extreme material poverty with vibrant cultural wealth. There were people who lived in shanties composed of dirt floors, paperboard walls, and tin roofs; I even saw toddlers walking from their shanties to nearby streams to get water. Material poverty like I had never seen. I also saw more small businesses than I had ever seen in such a small area. There were barbershops, food vendors, clothing stores, and convenience shops, all housed in the most unusual places: train storage cars and telephone booths to name a few. There were people everywhere and it seemed like everyone knew everyone else. The community moved like a single living organism, thriving via a common pulse.
Likhona was a member of that community, and from him I heard words that I will carry with me a lifetime. We settled on eating at a restaurant called Spurs, he and I ordered ribs from the adult menu. We ended up taking to-go boxes so he could save some of the food for his mother. While walking toward the train station after we ate—he was heading to Langa and I back to Sea Point (a tourist district)—we walked past the Cape Town Wheel (a huge ferris wheel that provides a 360-degree view of downtown Cape Town). I asked Likhona if he had ever been on the wheel. He replied that he had not. So I decided to treat him to a ride.
While riding the wheel and looking over the expanse of Cape Town, I asked him where his favorite part of Cape Town was. He paused for a moment; I could tell he was in deep contemplation. His reply left me speechless. He said, “Wherever I am. Right here is my favorite part of Cape Town.” Likhona is a young boy who wants to be a singer, whose favorite artist is Beyoncé. He is happy and it is recognizable from the smile he wears on his face and the songs that ring through his voice. The subdued nature that I saw when I first met him was a result of the hunger he felt inside. He was humble enough to ask a stranger for a meal and ended up giving me the gift of a shift in perspective. Likhona I Themba Killa, translated from Xhosa to English means Hope. I was inspired by the hope that I saw Likhona embody.
Law school is difficult. I have never worked this hard in my life. Sometimes I doubt my abilities. Sometimes I worry that the work that I put in will not translate to the success that I desire in life. There is a temptation to succumb to discouragement and burnout. But I won’t. I have learned throughout my life that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Every experience is another opportunity to learn a lesson that I will apply in the future. I will continue to do the best I possibly can in my course work and externship experiences. I’m over half way finished with law school! It is all about perspective. I’m grateful because Likhona told me the secret: Wherever I am is my favorite place to be.
By Shaquille Turner, a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.