"When I can speak what is true to me and my experience, it's more powerful. It gets people listening."
As a woman who is biracial and has confronted disparity in profound ways in her life, Jordyn Bishop ’17 enrolled in law school with ambitions of becoming an advocate for people of color and indigenous communities.
“I’m half white, so I have immense privilege,” Bishop said. “And because I have so much privilege, I want to use that to tell my story.”
The 30-year-old Bay Area resident graduated from UC Hastings in 2017 with the legal expertise, strengthened convictions, and professional resources to pursue her goals.
After completing a yearlong fellowship at the Oakland-based Greenlining Institute—a racial- and economic-justice nonprofit working to advance opportunity and empowerment for people of color through policy, research, and organization—she has another invaluable tool that helps her spur change: storytelling.
“Before law school, I could talk about race with my family and friends, but in a professional setting, it was intimidating,” said Bishop, whose complicated personal story has been a motivating force in her pursuit of racial justice. “I’ve learned that when I can speak what is true to me and my experience, it’s more powerful. It gets people listening.”
Bishop’s father is Native American and spent much of her childhood incarcerated. “The criminal justice system is embedded into the fabric of our family,” she said.
Bishop’s mother, on the other hand, was a teenager working at Burger King when she became pregnant. Her supervisor at the fast-food chain, who also has four adopted children of mixed races, took the teenage mother and her daughter in. Bishop continues to live with one of the surrogate caregiver’s children to this day.
Though Bishop, the first in her family to graduate from college, said she is “white-passing,” her family members with brown skin have had very different life experiences. “I grew up having these experiences but didn’t have the information about what sort of circumstances led to the environment that created my father’s and my experiences,” Bishop said. “I’ve had to learn to articulate how historical racism has an impact today.”
Through its leadership academy, the Greenlining Institute aims to give fellows like Bishop the language and confidence to walk into a legislative council, courtroom, or executive circle, and speak about racial issues in a way that people can relate to that also respects the experiences of different communities.
During her time at the Greenlining Institute, which concluded in August, Bishop focused on environmental equity, a passion she traces back to UC Hastings and a climate change seminar taught by Professor David Takacs.
“That was the moment I knew these are the issues I care about and that my voice is being heard,” Bishop said, adding that her courses in social justice lawyering with Associate Dean Ascanio Piomelli and Professor Nancy Stuart helped her understand how the many manifestations of inequity are intertwined.
Bishop’s indigenous ancestors used storytelling as a means of preserving history and imparting wisdom for generations. Now, as she maps out the next phase of her legal career, Bishop believes the practice will guide her to make change in the 21st century.
“We’re coming full circle,” Bishop said.