The Association of Black Law Alumni (The ABLA)

Leadership 2023-2024


The Association of Black Law Alumni (The ABLA) was created in 2019 as an affiliate of the Detroit Mercy Law Alumni Association. The ABLA's mission is to augment the resources of the law school and the legal profession by actively recruiting and mentoring black law students through scholarships and career networking opportunities. The ABLA also aims to facilitate communications between black law students, faculty, staff, and the administration and to enrich the legal education experience for black law students.

As the first Detroit Mercy Law alumni affiliate, the ABLA provides a template for future affiliate alumni associations seeking a way to give back to the law school. Anyone who earned a law degree from Detroit Mercy Law and supports the mission is eligible to join.

ABLA President banner

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    The ABLA President's Message

    Standing at the gate of the 2023-2024 academic year, looking ahead, I smile with excitement of a of a vision of a harvest moon enabling a collective of Detroit Mercy Law alumni to work long into the night for equal justice. My vision is inspired by knowledge of seeds generously planted by the Association of Black Law Alumni (ABLA) in the fertile fields of Detroit Mercy Law alumni and students this past year.

    The seeds were planted in furtherance of the ABLA’s mission to augment resources used to increase Black law alumni and student participation through fellowship, networking, mentoring and other activities at Detroit Mercy Law.

    The ABLA has successfully tended the fields, establishing strong collaborative relationships with the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), the Hispanic and Latino Law Student Association (HILLSA) and the Student Bar Association (SBA) and other student groups. Those relationships were apparent by the large number of alumni, students, faculty and their families who attended the Third Annual ABLA Cookout, kicking off orientation weekend.

    My vision is emboldened by the enthusiasm of a score of recent Black alumni to become new ABLA board members, bringing creative ideas to actively develop the next-generation leaders for Detroit Mercy Law’s continuing crusade for equal justice, diversity and inclusion. The ABLA’s unceasing pledge to the crusade is embodied in the selection of tools used to plant the seeds of opportunity depicted in our logo: Justice, Mercy, Scholarship and Power.

    No matter the bitter winds that blow, history tells me to remain forever confident in the use of these tools; confident these enduring tools, in the hands of the Detroit Mercy Law’s next-generation leaders, will forever preserve the fertile fields for a bountiful harvest of equal justice, diversity and inclusion. For these reasons I smile with a vision knowing of the great things to come.

    Together We Rise!

    Hon. Terrance A. Keith '84
    Association of Black Law Alumni


    Board of Directors

    The ABLA Board of Directors and Committee Assignment
    Board Director Committee Assignment
    Hon. Terrance Keith '84 (President) Historical Documentation & Alumni Engagement (Chair)
    Jessica Holmes '15 (Vice President) Communications & Alumni Engagement (Chair)
    DeLon Slaughter '23 (Secretary)

    Board Members

    The ABLA Members and Committee Assignment
    Member Committee Assignment
    Hon. Marilyn Atkins '80 Fundraising & Programming (Chair)
    Erica Powell Bell '08 Fundraising & Programming
    Fallon Booth '14 Mentoring & Student Relations
    Kristoffer Butler '19
    Ponce D. Clay '15 Communications & Alumni Engagement
    Deja M. Davis '21
    Darwyn Fair '79 Mentoring & Student Relations
    Macie D. Tuiasosopo Gains  '13 Communications & Alumni Engagement
    Robbie Gaines '15 Fundraising & Programming
    Michele Hall-Edwards '84 Historical Documentation & Alumni Engagement (Chair)
    Krenissa Hicks '16 Fundraising & Programming
    Hon. Shannon A. Holmes '98 Historical Documentation & Alumni Engagement
    Marcel Hurt '92 Mentoring & Student Relations
    Ryan Jackson '17 Fundraising & Programming
    Sydney Jackson, 2L
    Larry J. Johnson II '23
    Edwina King '10 Communications & Alumni Engagement (Chair)
    Jonathan Kirkland '15 Mentoring & Student Relations
    Melissa Kopriva '16 Mentoring & Student Relations
    Desiree Marks '13
    Ashley McBride '16 Fundraising & Programming
    Coriann McMillen '23
    Jamel Nelson '09 Communications & Alumni Engagement AND Mentoring
    Mylika Radford '13 Fundraising & Programming
    Kymberly Kinchen Reeves '09 Mentoring & Student Relations (Chair)
    Nishawn Spiller '17 Fundraising & Programming
    Aisha J. Thomas '13 Historical Documentation & Alumni Engagement
    Clarence Tucker '87 Mentoring & Student Relations
    Kimberly L. Ward '97
    Brandon A. Wilson '22
    Tenisha R. Yancy '13


    Detroit Mercy Law Representatives

    Jelani Jefferson Exum
    Dean and Philip J. McElroy Professor of Law


    Committee Objectives

    Committee Objectives
    Committee Purpose Objectives
    Mentoring & Student Relations Serve lead on a mentoring program for students in BLSA and point of contact for student needs.
    • Create and implement a robust mentoring program with BLSA. 
    • Serves as a point of contact for student needs.   

    Historical Documentation & 
    Alumni Engagement 

    Work with the Communications Committee in developing programs to engage alumni.  Provide direction and implement a means to document the history of Black alumni at Detroit Mercy Law
    • Develop a means to document the history of Detroit Mercy Law Black Alumni.
    • Coordinate volunteers to implement program. 
    Fundraising & 
    Collaborate with university development and dean to plan and implement a robust program for ABLA related funds.
    • Work to raise funds and awareness for the Williams Endowed Scholarship.
    • Work with Director of Alumni Relations on Annual Fund.
    • Community Relations to plan and implement Cook Out.
    • Develop programs to connect students and alumni. 
    Communications &
    Alumni Engagement
    Manage social media for the ABLA group; engage with alumni who have expressed interest in getting involved & staying connected, support efforts of other committees in messaging and promotion.
    • Create and implement a robust social media program to engage alumni and ensure the community knows about BLSA.
    • Work with the programming committee to develop, implement and promote events and programming.
    • Coordinate volunteers – assign to committee.
    • Plan events and gatherings in partnership with Law School Alumni Relations and Law School Board of Directors.

    Contact the ABLA

    If interested in learning more about the ABLA or to get involved, contact

About the Association of Black Law Alumni

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    Mission and the ABLA Charter

    The ABLA is dedicated to: 

    • Fostering a mutually beneficial and lifelong relationship between Detroit Mercy Law and black alumni.
    • Ensuring black law students are able to attend and thrive at Detroit Mercy Law.
    • Facilitating the successful transition of black law students into the legal profession and engaging black alumni to actively participate in events hosted by the School, the Alumni Association and the ABLA. 

    The ABLA Charter


    Background and History

    On Thursday, May 18, 2017, seventeen Detroit Mercy Law black alumni met in Detroit to discuss the formation of a black alumni association. Present were: Mikyia Aaron '15, Brandon Byrd '19, Charity Dean '15, Robbie Gaines '15, Michelle Hall '84, Kyra Harris '14, Ticara Hendley '16, Jessica Holmes '15, Derek Hurt '84, Aaron Jackson '17, Ryan Jackson '15, Hon. Terrance Keith '84, Melissa Kopriva '16, Macie Tuiasosopo '13 and Nishawn Spiller '17.

    There was unanimous support for an association of black alumni to support black law students and to create a network among black alumni. Support was shaped by shared racial discrimination experiences, both subtle and overt, across the decades, as well as concerns about the low enrollment of black law students and the absence of tenured black professors.

    On May 24, 2017, Hon. Terrance Keith '84 and Melissa Kopriva '16 met with Dean Phyllis L. Crocker to discuss the formation of a black law alumni association as an affiliate of the Detroit Mercy Law Alumni Association. With Dean Crocker’s endorsement, upon determining an amendment to the Alumni Association’s by-laws would be necessary, a motion to amend the by-laws for the creation of affiliate associations was made and approved at the Alumni Association's Sept. 2017 board meeting.

    The following year, on May 22, 2018, the Alumni Association approved a charter for the formation of the Association of Black Law Alumni (the ABLA), Detroit Mercy Law's first affiliate alumni association. At the meeting, the Alumni Association expressed that increasing black alumni participation in Detroit Mercy Law events and programs was of vital importance to the long term mission and success of the Alumni Association and the School. The Alumni Association resolved the creation of ABLA would actively assist the School with increasing black alumni and student participation through fellowship, career networking, mentoring, student recruitment, retention, scholarship fundraising and other activities that enhance the Detroit Mercy Law experience.

    A number of events and activities have taken place since the initial formation of ABLA, including:

    • May 2018: The ABLA charter approved by the Detroit Mercy Law Alumni Board.

    • April 2018: The University presented Judge Gregory Mathis '88 with the 2018 Detroit Mercy Alumni Achievement Spirit Award; the Law School held a reception honoring Judge Mathis the evening before the University's celebration.

    • Oct. 2018: The Fall 2018 issue of the Docket was dedicated to black alumni and alumni of color, a first in the history of the Docket. 

    • Nov. 2018: Research began on the history of black alumni.

    • March 2019: Portrait of Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise K. Langford Morris '82 was unveiled and is now displayed in the Detroit Mercy Law atrium, marking the first portrait of an African American and a woman at the Law School.

    • Summer 2019: The ABLA’s administrative structure within the Law School and the university established.   

    • Aug. 2019: Professor Jelani Jefferson Exum becomes Detroit Mercy Law's first black tenured professor.

    More information can be found here.


    The ABLA Initiatives

    The ABLA has established the following priority initiatives: 

    • Create a pre-graduation ceremony congratulating and welcoming new graduates as members of ABLA and introducing them to alumni.
    • Identify a pool of alumni to serve as mentors and participate in the dean’s annual admitted student reception. 
    • Attend and support the annual BLSA Las Vegas Night Event fundraiser.
    • Establish a major endowed scholarship for black law students to augment the financial assistance provided by the law school.  

    The David Williams II ’82 and Gail Carr Williams ’83 Endowed Scholarship Fund

    The Detroit Mercy Law Association of Black Law Alumni (The ABLA) was established in 2019 to serve as a voice and mentoring organization for Black law alumni and current students at Detroit Mercy Law. One of the ABLA’s priorities is to raise $1 million for the David Williams II ’82 and Gail Carr Williams ’83 Endowed Scholarship Fund to support Black law students. To make a gift, visit our Donate to the School of Law website and designate your gift to "Williams Scholarship".

    "This is an enduring way to extend and enhance community scholarship. It is truly my sincere hope that many will support the ABLA with contributions to the scholarship with gifts of any size, deepening the legacy for the generations of Detroit Mercy Law black alumni to come."
    Gail Carr Williams '83

Black History of Detroit Mercy Law

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    Trailblazers: First Known African American Graduates

    First Known African American Graduates


    2018 Docket Feature: Bending the Arc Toward Justice

    Read the 2018 Docket for stories about Detroit Mercy Law alumni judges and attorneys of color.

    Docket cover - four attorneys of color


    Bending the Arch Toward Justice Launch Event

    Detroit Mercy Law ushered in Black History Month by hosting an evening on January 30, 2020 that acknowledges and celebrates our history, our present, our future. The event includes:

    Bending the Arc Toward Justice - Tarrant Photo

    • A portrait unveiling of Henry H. Tarrant 1922, our first known African American graduate.
    • Remarks by Godfrey Dillard, a civil rights trailblazer and one of the lawyers who represented BLSA in their lawsuit against the university in the early 1980s.
    • The announcement of the new Henry H. Tarrant Award for Black Student Excellence.
    • The official launch of the Association of Black Law Alumni (the ABLA) and the ABLA’s new scholarship for African American students.

    Photo Gallery