Black Student Leaders: Spotlight on Trent McBride (2L)

In commemoration of Black History Month, UW Law recognizes the leadership and voices of Black student leaders in our community. Their powerful voices are a subset of a group that represents the social and systemic change that needs to happen in our school, our nation and around the world.

Black students at UW Law have the opportunity to join a community called the Black Law Student Association (BLSA). BLSA president Gabryelle Matz-Carter (2L) applauds members “who have shown an exemplary level of passion for both our coursework and the impact we can make in the community with the knowledge and understanding we’re gaining” at UW Law.

Our third student highlighted in this series, following highlights on Enny Olaleye (2L) and Danielle Igbokwe (2L), is Trent McBride (2L). Matz-Carter says, “Trent sustains his excellent performance in school while fulfilling his duties as a Gregoire Fellow and preparing several attorney-led panels for students as President of the Tech Law Society and Co-Vice President of the Entertainment Law Association.”

We connected with Trent about his experiences, aspirations and inspirations, both within the law school and beyond.

UW Law: Tell us about your background and current activities.

McBride: My journey to UW Law has been a testament to the power of determination and the desire to break free from societal constraints. Despite the odds stacked against me, I was able to push beyond and achieve things that I never thought possible. I have learned to balance my newfound identity in academia with my identity as someone who was born into poverty and difficult circumstances. It is a constant struggle, but one that I am willing to undertake to continue pushing the limits and challenging the status quo. My experiences have only strengthened my resolve to make a difference and to pave the way for others to do the same. The journey continues, but I am determined to reach new heights and to make a positive impact in the world.

Education was neither prioritized in my family nor encouraged by my parents; education was an afterthought behind making an income. Whether that income came legally or illegally was never a real concern. I was 15 years old when I moved out and started working my first full-time job, which often exceeded 40 hours per week. I was spending significantly more time trying to make money than I was going to school. I had missed so many classes that I was declared effectively absent for the entire first year of high school.  Because of this, I was forced to attend an “alternative” high school that taught the “bad’’ students who fell behind if I wanted to pursue my high school diploma.

To this day, I still wonder what made me want to change my circumstances. Maybe it was the fact that my parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was almost being caught by the cops selling drugs when I was 16 years old. Maybe it was when my twin brother witnessed a homicide when we were 17 years old. Or maybe it was a culmination of factors. I did not want to live my life waiting to be killed or sent to jail— a reality that is far too common for people from my community. Whatever the reason was, something clicked, and I decided I was going to do anything I could to escape. I eventually completed high school with an unremarkable 2.7 GPA, all while working a full-time job.

I offer this story because my path to appreciating the value of an education has been a trying experience that continues to push me to go beyond the predetermined limits society has set for me. Because of how I look, where I am from and the economic class I was born into, there are unspoken constraints on what I may achieve. I have a relentless determination to push past not only those low expectations, but also institutionalized oppressions, so that I can show people who look like me, and come from similar backgrounds, that it is possible to defy the odds.

After making the conscious decision to challenge the status quo, I joined the United States Navy out of desperation to further separate myself from my past. In 2016, I became one of the youngest personnel to be an acting Watch Commander of a law enforcement precinct at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California, at 21 years old. Several years later I graduated from San Diego Community College with an associate degree in political science. This made me the first and only of my six siblings to receive a college degree. Soon after, I graduated summa cum laude from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in education. So far, I have already pushed the bounds of what I, or anyone else, had thought was possible for me. Only now I believe that much more is possible. I am now reaching for dreams I did not even know I could dream. Becoming complacent now would only delay the dreams of equity and equality for people who look like me or share similar histories. Complacency is not an option.

UW Law: How has being part of BLSA supported you in law school?

McBride: Being a person of color in a predominantly White-dominated field and school can be difficult, but BLSA has provided me with comfort and a sense of community.  The presence of other Black law students pursuing the same goals and facing similar challenges has been uplifting and made me feel less isolated. In a field with such a small number of people of color, seeing others with shared experiences and goals has been incredibly motivating. Outside of a few familiar faces that I see around campus, BLSA also actively works towards promoting diversity and creating connections between students of color and legal professionals of color. Through different events, the organization brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds to create a supportive network that encourages and empowers Black UW law students to succeed in their academic and professional pursuits. I have especially appreciated the mentorship program. I have been able to help new students navigate law school, just as I was helped, and that full circle moment is very meaningful to me. BLSA has been a source of support, friendship and encouragement. The community is more than just an organization for me: I have made lasting connections through events and programs, and I have always felt welcomed and supported. I have gained so much, both personally and professionally from BLSA, and I would not be where I am today without the organization.

UW Law: What do you hope to do with your law degree after graduation?

McBride: One of my long-term goals after law school is to bridge the gap between the law and the people it serves. The law plays a pervasive role in our lives, from the way we vote on legislation during elections, to the terms and conditions we agree to when we download a new app on our cell phones. Despite its pervasive nature, the complexity of the law often makes it difficult for people to engage with and understand, particularly for historically marginalized communities. It is a failure of our society that the law has become effectively inaccessible to everyone except lawyers.

To fulfill this goal, I have already taken preliminary steps towards forming a nonprofit organization that seeks to demystify the law. I am driven by a deep passion to empower the community I come from, and other oppressed communities, by making the law more accessible and relatable to them.

My goal is to use my legal education and skills to make a tangible difference in the lives of those who cannot access the law. I aim to achieve this goal by providing access to the law through a variety of means, including the development of a nonprofit, community workshops, and even pro bono work. I believe that by working together with the communities I serve, I can help create a future where everyone has equal access to the law and the knowledge to use it to their advantage.

UW Law: Is there a black leader who has inspired you?

McBride: I was introduced to bell hooks in my very first college class at San Diego Community College. Her work has shed light on the negative impacts that a white supremacist and patriarchal society can have on marginalized groups, and the intersectionality of race, gender and capitalism. She also emphasized the significance of advocating for change and disrupting the dominant narrative. When hooks said, “If I do not speak in a language that can be understood there is little chance for a dialogue,” I took this to mean that in “professional spaces” my conformity to the academic/professional world was a necessity if I wanted a seat at the table.  I could no longer speak and dress the way I was comfortable. If I was to succeed in this world of professionals, I would have to adopt an identity that “fits in.”

Hooks’ writing and teachings helped me understand feminism, my position in society as a Black man and the power of my own voice. While I should not have to conform or assimilate to the hegemonic culture, our society would not take me seriously if I did not change the way I present myself. She taught me the power of self-expression and the importance of finding a balance between staying true to one’s identity and adapting to the language and norms of the dominant culture. Her teachings showed me that as a Black man, I have the potential to make a meaningful impact by challenging the status quo by staying true to my own identity. She continues to inspire me to use my voice and education to bring about positive change. Ever since discovering her work, I have become more conscious and self-reflective, and I have grown to understand the complexities of race, gender and class and how they intersect to shape our experiences. Because of bell hooks, I am now cognizant of the importance of challenging normative behavior in society and actively working towards creating a more just and equitable society.