“Most people miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” –Thomas Edison
"If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade." - Tom Peters
This morning, I want to share two inspiring stories about seizing opportunities and making improbable dreams come true.
Two days ago, the horse, Rich Strike, was not supposed to be in the Kentucky Derby, horse racing’s biggest stage. Before Friday morning, Rich Strike was not even in the field. The starting gate for the Kentucky Derby included 20 spaces, but Rich Strike wore No. 21 because the horse entered the race just 34 hours before the race start when another horse was scratched. Against 80-1 odds, Rich Strike came from behind to win the Kentucky Derby.
50 years ago, Patricia Ann Blackmon, a young Black woman, born in Oxford, Mississippi, one of eleven children raised in poverty by a single mother, was not supposed to go to college, and certainly not to law school. Against odds even greater than 80-1, she was the first person in four generations of her family to attend college.
She not only graduated from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi magna cum laude, but she also was accepted and enrolled at CSU Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and went on to be the first Black woman elected to a state court of appeals in Ohio. She served five terms where she carried out the mission of the law school from which she graduated in 1975 – she “lived justice,” and dispensed it with intellectual rigor, compassion, and respect for the rule of law.
The story behind her story demonstrates the power of opportunity.
Disappointed by a dearth of minority students at CSU Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Professor Ann Aldrich, the first tenured woman law professor at CSU Cleveland-Marshall and later the first woman federal judge in Ohio, started a student recruitment program in the early 1970’s at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the South. She recruited a number of promising students, including Patricia Ann Blackmon, and persuaded them to apply to CSU Cleveland-Marshall. Patricia Blackmon enrolled at CSU Cleveland-Marshall, and Professor Aldrich and Patricia Blackmon began their decades long close friendship. The rest is history.
Both Judge Aldrich and Judge Blackmon are members of our law school Hall of Fame. Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon ’75 recently retired as a Judge on the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, and today, Judge Blackmon mentors and coaches our students as a Jurist-in-Residence.
Last Thursday evening, I had the honor of attending a wonderful Celebration of her 30+ years of judicial service at Cleveland’s iconic Old Courthouse. The speakers, all of whom are our distinguished graduates, were Celebration Co-Chairs Jason Bristol ’00 and Rosalina Fini ‘94, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor ’80, and three judges on the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, Administrative Judge Sean C. Gallagher ‘89, Judge Mary J. Boyle ’89, and Judge Eileen A. Gallagher ’87.
I had the privilege of announcing the establishment of the Judge Ann Aldrich / Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon Scholarship Fund as part of the 125th anniversary of our law school and the 5oth anniversary of our Legal Career Opportunities Program (LCOP) Program.
The purpose of this new Scholarship Fund is to provide scholarships to students admitted to our Legal Career Opportunities Program (LCOP), a groundbreaking, highly selective program established in 1972 that admits students whose applications, when viewed in their entirety, have demonstrated strong academic ability, perseverance, and promise for success, but whose standardized test score does not reflect their greater potential. Recipients of the scholarships will be known as Aldrich/Blackmon Scholars. Judge Blackmon was a student in the first LCOP class in 1972.
Our immediate goal is to endow the scholarship fund, thereby making it permanent. This requires raising a minimum of $25,000. If you would like to contribute to the new Judge Ann Aldrich / Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon Scholarship Fund, please give here. Many of our students are first generation law students like Judge Blackmon, and without a scholarship, they would not have the opportunity to fulfill their dream of being a lawyer.
Jason Bristol ’00 concluded the evening’s tribute to Judge Blackmon, stating “Judge Patricia Blackmon has been a friend, mentor, and role model to so many of us, including the Judges who followed in her footsteps. Judge Blackmon’s story is a story about love, determination, perseverance, and kindness. Her life journey and distinguished career are a testament to what a person can accomplish with intellect, initiative, strong values, and love and support. And this is an important and beautiful legacy that we should all strive to uphold.”
The next day, Judge Blackmon and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart ‘88 spoke at the City Club of Cleveland Law Day Program
sponsored by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association where Justice Stewart also announced the establishment of the
Judge Ann Aldrich / Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon Scholarship Fund.
We are a law school of excellence and opportunity, and pride ourselves on giving first generation and diverse and nontraditional law students access to a high quality legal education.
The story of Rich Strike and the 2022 Kentucky Derby, the story of Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon ’75 and her friend and mentor, Judge Ann Aldrich, and the story of our LCOP Program have something very important in common.
They are compelling stories about the power of creating opportunity, seizing it, and making improbable dreams come true.
That’s also the story of CSU Cleveland-Marshall.
Give to the Judge Ann Aldrich/Judge Patricia Blackmon Scholarship Fund
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay Committed to Living Justice.
Have a great day. Have a great week.
Dean, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law | Cleveland State University
Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law
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