Ellison speaks at law student event

The School of Law graduate reflected on the experiences that shaped his career.

Alex Amend

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison returned to his alma mater Thursday evening to speak to a packed audience in the Walter F. Mondale School of Law building.

Ellison, a 1990 graduate of the law school, discussed his journey from growing up in Detroit to becoming Minnesota’s first black U.S. representative and the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Black Law Students Association, of which Ellison was once president, sponsored the event as a celebration of Black History Month and the success of one of the law school’s own. A University organizer estimated the attendance at about 200.

Explaining what shaped his political views, Ellison pointed first to his hometown of Detroit as a “cauldron of the trends in society” and to the religious tolerance of his mother.

At Wayne State and the University Law School, Ellison began to find the limits of academia and his interest in community service.

“The most interesting things that happen in college and in law school usually don’t happen in the classroom,” said Ellison. “We as students raised questions about what role the University should have in the community and got involved.”

Ellison asked the audience to follow such a path in the community and encouraged students to find a mentor. He also spoke to the value of public writing in conveying new ideas.

During law school, Ellison said, he was very cynical toward electoral politics but would later change.

“I learned I was wrong about that, and the work I was doing in the community showed me that,” he said. “I realized we needed politicians who believed in the noblest ideas of the country to stand up for them and fight for them.”

Ellison said he is trying to fill that role and since his first appointment to the Minnesota House in 1998, he said he has been consistently rewarded and urged others to participate.

Zainab Akbar, a first-year law student, said she admired Ellison’s honest and open approach to politics.

“He’s like, ‘Look I want your input, I know what my goal is, I am just trying to figure a way to get there,'” she said

Iman Ali, another first-year law student, commented on Ellison’s focus on diversity.

“I like how he emphasized the progress we’ve made, but also recognizes the fact that we have a long way to go,” she said. “And I like how he encourages solidarity between various advocacy groups in moving forward.”

Maximillia Utley, president of the Black Law Student Alliance, said she was excited that Ellison agreed to speak at the law school.

“It’s important for people to be able to see beyond his status and see how he got where he is today.”