Tell us about yourself.
Hm, there’s a lot to tell! I am a mature student going into Ryerson Law. I was born in Nigeria, raised in Canada and the U.S. I’m one of four children. I got into the cannabis game a little early back when I was living in Philly. I got arrested and I ended up back in Canada in 2012 as a deportee. When I first got back to Canada it was certainly a struggle. I didn’t really know how I was going to restart my life. 2018 was when things started to come together, and that was because I finally decided to do something that I was interested in. I volunteered on a political campaign. You know, it’s one of those things that one might find so embarrassing to be living off of social assistance but it didn’t matter to me. I was living in a rooming house, I was volunteering, but I was happy for the first time in a very long time. I had an opportunity to look at my interests and actually explore things. One day, I came across this fateful episode of 60 Minutes - and I cannot emphasize enough just how important this episode was to my forthcoming journey - where the person featured was a convicted bank robber from Nebraska. He had turned his life around, became a lawyer, and was now a professor at Georgetown Law. This sparked something inside of me. I’ve always had an interest in the legal field, I mean I would read indictments for fun, so I decided to look further into a legal career and here I am.
Read more about Ish:
They called me prisoner 183645 via Toronto Life
He was in a U.S. jail 10 years ago. He starts law school in Toronto this fall via The Star
Convicted drug offender among Ryerson University Law School first cohort via Ron Fanfair
What area of law would you like to practice?
I certainly have an interest in Criminal law but I am more interested in systems change. For me, being a Criminal Defense lawyer is not going to contribute to that. I want to specifically change colonial racist systems that exist. I’d be interested in working for the Crown Attorney but under the circumstance of working in a Conviction Integrity Unit. In Philly there is a new District Attorney who has revived the Conviction Integrity Unit over there where their only job is to look at old cases and find holes - old cases that their office actually convicted. In two years, seven people have gotten out of life without parole sentences based on this targeted investigation into cases they worked on. I mean, these are people’s lives so I think this is extremely important. Another thing is, I just resigned from the Board of Directors of the John Howard Society (see here for full statement) and I think there is a problem with the government giving money to these kinds of organizations without proper oversight - maybe I could be a part of that solution.
Why did you choose Ryerson Law?
In 2018 I had been networking in the field for quite some time and I kept hearing about this new school, Ryerson Law. So, I reached out to one of my advisors, Superior Court Justice Lorne Sossin, who introduced me to someone from Ryerson and that’s when I started looking deeper into seeing if Ryerson Law was really going to do what they said they were going to do. Ultimately it came down to this: I was taking an LSAT course at another law school so every Tuesday and Thursday I was walking through the halls and on the way up the stairs to the classroom on the walls, there were class requisite pictures from all of the previous cohorts. I would see just specks of Black in these photos and I thought to myself, “Wow, that must’ve been tough”. So as I reflected, I realized that Ryerson Law was certainly saying all of the right things in regards to diversity and inclusion… but I could also see it in execution. The acting Dean and other members of the administration were clearly diverse and that meant a lot to me. I saw so much opportunity in this new law school that was being built from scratch. Again, everything for me is about making an impact and so being a part of building this new law program is exciting for me.
What do you hope to accomplish with your J.D.?
Representation is important. I look at the legal field and yeah, sure, there are some Black lawyers. But I want to see representation in a way where it is normal to see Black people, not where we are “exceptions”. If we’re going to change the legal field, it needs to be more diverse and inclusive and in order to do that, leadership across the sector needs to have that lens. My lens is unique. My Black lens is impoverished, it’s involved in the Criminal Justice system, it’s Muslim... it’s all of the things that a lot of people hate and pretend they like.
With that being said, I can definitely see myself wanting to be in these leadership positions, maybe even the Dean of Ryerson Law one day. I never thought it could be a reality, for me to become a lawyer - and this was before I got arrested. So to hear from members of the Ryerson Law team that I could be a leader in this industry, I really want to be able to do that for others and to make law school more inviting to everyone and make it truly inclusive.
I think all of us students at Ryerson Law shouldn’t try to wedge ourselves into the way things have always been done otherwise we aren’t really being innovative, are we? I understand it’s natural for students to enter with the mindset of following a traditional law student path but I hope our cohort knows that we don’t have to do things like that. There are so many ways to make an impact. For me, this idea of a “prestigious” title that comes with being a lawyer isn’t what interests me, it isn’t why I’m going to law school. Someone asked me in 2018 why I want to go to law school, and my answer was that I have a lot to say and no one will listen to me right now. And honestly, that still kind of rings true. Getting a law degree will mean no one can take that away from me, and I’ll be able to control my own destiny. I’m not going into law school thinking “who am I going to work for?” - that’s just not my attitude. I want to study all of these areas of law and ask myself what value do I bring? If you’re anti-black, anti-indigenous, misogynistic, I don’t want to work around you. I don’t want to enter into a structure that was built for white dudes. I’ve had enough of that. Now, there are ways that I can work in that structure but it won’t be in a traditional way, and that’s the path I’ll be going on. A law degree will empower me to dedicate my full energy to shaping a legal system that affords everyone equitable access to justice; a mission that can only be achieved if the legal profession itself becomes more diverse, inclusive and accessible.
As a part of the inaugural cohort of Ryerson Law, what are you most looking forward to?
I am most looking forward to this pandemic being over so I can meet my classmates and my professors in real life and build community… in real life! I’m also really excited to just dive right into the course work. People might find that weird, but it’s true! There’s this narrative of 1L being so difficult but I just don’t subscribe to that. It will definitely come with challenges but I think it’s all about how you approach it. I’m really excited to inject my personality and opinions at Ryerson Law and I hope our classmates will do the same, and that we will all support one another and lift each other up. I’m all about that - creating and fostering an open-source and supportive community.