NASCAR intern feels ready to practice law

Program helps bring diversity to law as well as racing

Hakeem Onafowokan
Hakeem Onafowokan

Less than five percent of U.S. lawyers are Black according to a Lawyers of Color Foundation study. Yolanda Young authored the study using American Bar Association numbers, which show that over the last decade Black attorneys have increased by only four tenths of a percent, and the percentage of Blacks attending top law schools and large law firms “has actually declined.”

“I do feel ready for the real world,” declares recent University of Minnesota Law School graduate Hakeem Onafowokan, Jr., who is currently studying for his bar exam as he seeks full-time employment either in sports law or labor law. Onafowokan also participated in the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program the last two summers.

“Last year I interned in the Public and Governmental Affairs Department,” he recalls. “I researched different legislative and policy decisions across the country that may have been of interest to NASCAR.” He also worked with NASCAR’s “Troops to the Track” program that brought military members to races.

“This year I am in the NASCAR Legal Department,” continues Onafowokan. “I review and analyze various agreements and contracts” that vary from reviewing NASCAR rules to sponsoring agreements. All of that “helps shape the final product consumers see on race day.”

The two internships gave him new insight into NASCAR as well, states Onafowokan. “Without this program, I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of working with NASCAR because of the negative perception around the sport. But after working in the program twice, I know that the perception is not the reality of what happens within NASCAR.”

NASCAR is ranked among the least popular sports among Blacks. The Confederate flag, which often is seen at races either on cars or in the stands, have turned away many Blacks as well.

“No question that there needs to be more work done in terms of attracting more African American viewers to the sport of NASCAR,” admits Onafowokan. “But at the same time, over the last decade plus, NASCAR has consciously spent time in crafting and promoting a system to attract more minorities and more female individuals in the sport.”

Such as the Drive for Diversity (D4D) program that helps Blacks, other people of color, and women “with little to no funding to compete and move up through the sport’s ranks,” explains Onafowokan. Thanks to D4D, Darrell Wallace, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez in recent years have emerged. “I just think it’s a matter of time before Darrell Wallace makes it to the [NASCAR] Cup Series and gets the attention of the national media as well as Black America,” says the Minneapolis native.

The internships, along with his now-earned law degree, have prepared him well, surmises Onafowokan. “I feel comfortable and confident to start my legal career and hit the ground running to continuing learning.”

Working at NASCAR helped expose him to both sports law and labor law, the two areas in which he is seeking full time employment, says Onafowokan, who also aspires one day to be a sports franchise owner. “With my knowledge based in both of these areas of law, I feel as if I am ready to start accomplishing my goals as well as the goals of my company or clients,” he adds. “Witnessing firsthand how the attorneys handle a wide range of issues and situations with clients and in-house as well, this is something that isn’t taught too much in law schools.”

Onofowokan says he’s glad that he was able to get the two NASCAR internships. He hopes to bring greater diversity to a profession that, as the Lawyers of Color study notes, “remains stubbornly White.”

“I’m grateful for [the Diversity Internship Program] to give me the opportunities it has over the past two summers. I can only hope that another Black kid from Minneapolis reads this and will want to pursue a career with NASCAR in the future.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.