The impact of one man

Judge Nathaniel Jones' legacy continues to inspire

Growing up as the daughter of a doctor in Jackson, TN, Ashley Nkadi felt a familial expectation to go to medical school. That’s one reason why she majored in neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, earning a degree in that when she graduated in 2016. However, in the years after graduation, she became more and more interested in issues around social justice, which pushed her in the direction of law.

“I worked at a non-profit called BYP100, organizing around Black liberation,” says Nkadi, who just wrapped up her first year as a student at the UC College of Law. “We often worked with lawyers and because I was the public relations person, we spent a lot of time determining all the things you can legally say without jeopardizing our non-profit statuses. That was especially the case during elections. During this time, I began to like the idea of a lawyer’s role.”

Nkadi says she’s had a passion for digital communication for a long time, running her own website since she was in the sixth grade. Towards the end of her time as an undergrad at UC, she started gravitating toward social justice and digital organizing.

Ashley Nkadi

“If you look at the dots that connect my life, it really is communication, primarily digital communication, that brings it all together,” Nkadi says. “When I was an undergraduate at UC, I co-founded the Irate 8, a student-led digital social activist movement. I then worked in digital strategy and communications at organizations such as The Movement for Black Lives.  When I came to law school, I considered practicing in health care or environmental law. But since I’ve been at the College of Law, I have consistently been called back to the original plot of the movie. I’m a digital girl through and through. I love branding, I love media. I like the construction and the identity of a brand, whether it is a person or a company or a social justice organization, and I want to work where those things intersect with law.”

One of the factors that brought Nkadi to the UC College of Law was Judge Nathaniel Jones, who passed away in January 2020. Nkadi was involved in the discussion around whether Charles McMicken’s name should be removed from the College of Arts and Sciences and during that process, she says Dianne Dunkelman took her under her wing. Dunkelman, the Founder and CEO of the Building Healthy Lives Foundation, arranged for a meeting with Judge Jones.

“Judge Jones told me his story, and he gave me a copy of his book ‘Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America,’” Nkadi says. “He talked about things he thought I could do or things I would be good at, and from there, he connected me with his daughter who runs his foundation.”

I’m a digital girl through and through. I love branding, I love media. I like the construction and the identity of a brand, whether it is a person or a company or a social justice organization, and I want to work where those things intersect with law,

Ashley Nkadi

Nkadi was named a Jones Fellow, which means taking classes related to the intersection of law, identity politics, institutional racism and feminist issues.

“It was an interesting sequence of events,” says Nkadi. “I met him, I read his book, and he was able to impart wisdom about his journey and his activism. To be subsequently named a Fellow in a program that has been named for him — I just thought it was kind of cool.”

Nkadi had her eyes on law schools like Harvard or Howard, but Judge Jones suggested she go to the UC College of Law.

“He said it had the resources I needed and I had a personality that would do well there,” Nkadi says. “That was his recommendation to me and that was something I considered deeply when making my decision.”

As for what she plans to do with her law degree once she gets it, politics is a possibility.

“My family is always saying I’m going to be a politician because I just can’t stay away from trying to make change,” Nkadi says. “When I was an undergrad it was the Irate 8, after graduation I was involved in critical movements in this country, and I recently was appointed to be the Vice President of the Student Bar Association. So, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from trying to create structural change in any community of which I’m a part.”

Author Credit: Bill Bangert