By Charles Hallman
She originally wanted to go into medicine, but Larencina Mason Oramalu admits, “I was afraid of blood.” Evidently she wasn’t as afraid of the kind of blood that gets shed in courts of law.
Now an assistant dean and multicultural affairs director at William Mitchell College of Law, “I always wanted to help people,” notes the 2005 Mitchell graduate who also has a master’s degree in public affairs.
“There is more than one way to help people. There are social ills in the world, and I wanted to make sure everybody had equal opportunity…to quality education, employment opportunities, and various housing opportunities. What field can I go into where I would be in the position to make sure that people are treated fairly? That’s how I fell into the law.”
Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Oramalu says there were two individuals who made a lasting impression upon her.
“My pastor always has somebody who won an award to stand up,” she recalls, “so that the young people could see somebody who has achieved. A young lady stood up, and she was the valedictorian at her school, and she was a Black female. Before that, I didn’t know that as a young Black person I could be valedictorian in my high school, because all the ones I knew before that were White.
“That made me visualize myself reaching that goal,” continues Oramalu. “I said that day my goal was to be valedictorian of my high school. Lots of prayer and hard work — I’m thankful that I was able to achieve that goal.”
Later, Oramalu read in the local Kansas City Black newspaper that a Black woman attorney was coming to town to speak, and she went to hear her. “She was so inspiring — that was another person who motivated me to go on.”
She attended Rice University and started law school at DePaul, but then she transferred to William Mitchell after her husband, who is a doctor, took a job in the Twin Cities area. After graduation from law school, Oramalu worked at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, and then as a discrimination investigator for the school’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office before returning to her law school alma mater in December 2010.
At William Mitchell, “I get to help students who want to go into working for a firm, or work for government. My job now is to inspire and motivate so they can achieve their goals,” says Oramalu, who also conducts diversity training for various businesses and organizations. She wants to see all lawyers become culturally competent.
Although she loves her profession, Oramalu quickly points out that as a Black female lawyer she often faces obstacles, such as preconceived notions whenever she walks into the room.
“One of the things you experience as a law student is that maybe you are the only one or one of the few females of color. That can make you feel isolated, and depending on your personality, can make you feel intimidated. So it’s always nice to look around and see other people who look like you.
“Then, when you get out into the profession, people are questioning your competence,” says Oramalu. Some fellow Black lawyers have told her that people have mistaken them as court reporters “until they realized that they were the attorney.
“I have been in some situations when I walked into the room and people assumed that you are not there on their level. I always have to deal with trying to prove that, yes, I belong here and I am competent. I think that is a struggle that unfortunately most of us [Blacks] have to deal with no matter what our profession is.
“As African Americans, we have to keep proving that we are competent. That’s unfortunate,” Oramalu says, “but that’s the case.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.