By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When she was in middle school, Kayla Denyce Jimenez, 18, decided she wanted to be a lawyer, specifically a civil rights attorney.
Recently, she applied for the “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Scholarship,” which will help her achieve her dream of becoming an attorney.
“As an attorney, you have the power to fight for someone’s rights,” Jimenez, who has a strong passion for advocacy work, said.
“She [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] was such a powerful woman in society and in the Supreme Court, her presence commanded the room.”
The Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation launched the “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Scholarship” earlier this month in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Women’s History Month.
The scholarship provides monetary support to young woman of color interested in pursuing a law degree. Undergraduates will receive $2,000 each year and graduate students will receive up to $10,000 a year while attending the University of Wisconsin Law School or Marquette University Law School.
The idea for the scholarship came from Fred Tabak, a longtime board member of the MPS Foundation.
Wendell Willis, the executive director of the MPS Foundation, explained that Tabak has been practicing law for 50 years and he rarely if ever encountered female attorneys in the courtroom much less attorneys of color. Ginsburg had been an inspiration to Tabak and his daughter, and he decided it was time to something about the lack of diversity in the law profession.
“Justice Ginsburg compels us to identify ways we can help more young women follow in her footsteps,” Tabak said in the press release. “In Wisconsin and across the country, we have a great need for the legal profession to look more like the communities we serve, yet it is difficult for those from underserved neighborhoods to succeed.”
The scholarship was an easy one for the board to get behind, Willis said in an interview. The goal of the foundation is to provide equity to students, Willis said.
“We see for them what they see for themselves or better than what they see for themselves,” Willis said. “Regardless of where you are at MPS, you can get where you need to go.”
Jimenez, who is currently a senior at Ronald Wilson Regan IB College Prep, plans to study political science and law at Marquette University. She noted that it’s no secret that the law profession is dominated by “straight white men.” The lack of diversity is an issue, she said.
“I think minority women are so powerful,” Jimenez said. “We have so much to offer in the world of law profession.”
As an Afro-Latina, the lack of representation and diversity in her field of choice is something Jimenez has struggled with. She hopes to one day be an inspiration for other young women thinking about becoming a lawyer.
In addition to the scholarship, students will receive a mentor. Young people need someone to talk to who isn’t a parent or teacher, Willis said. Mentors are there to offer guidance and help the students determine where their true passion lies – which may not necessarily be in the courtroom.
“The more perspectives you have, the richer your insight is in the future,” he said. “I think having a number of people give you the full scope is the best thing possible.”
The organization is looking to partner with local firms and attorneys interested in being mentors and/or supporting the scholarship financially.
By the end of 2021, the MPS Foundation is looking to have $300,000 to $500,000, which will support the scholarship for a few years. Several board members have already donated to the scholarship. The goal is to establish a fund and endow it, Willis said.
So far, the foundation has received around 50 to 60 applicants, with more expected to come. The application can be found at mpsfdn.com/scholarships and the deadline to apply is Friday, March 26.
Willis said he hopes that the community and more hear about the scholarship and continue to work toward an equitable world.
“The time is now,” Willis said.