Meet the Inaugural Class of the California Scholars Program

UC Hastings Law offers a unique scholarship program to students who graduated from a California high school and went on to graduate from a historically black college or university (HBCU) or the American University of Armenia.

A state-funded initiative available only at UC Hastings, The California Scholars Program provides each student with $65,000 in support per year, covering the $45,000 enrollment fee and a $20,000 stipend for living expenses. There are four students in the inaugural class.

“The California Scholars Program provides a way for California to bring back talented students who left the State to pursue educational opportunities elsewhere,” said Chancellor & Dean David Faigman. “These individuals not only contribute to the rich intellectual atmosphere at UC Hastings, but will go on to enrich the California Bar.”

These scholarship recipients reflect the drive, mission, and spirit of UC Hastings. Let’s meet them.

Note: These interviews were conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak and the need for students to shelter in place. 

Photo of Nikayla Johnson
Nikayla Johnson

Name: 1L Nikayla Johnson

Undergrad: Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA

Why she’s at UC Hastings Law: I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was young. I chose to major in political science because I found that most people in law school were poli sci majors and it was the leading major for law students with good LSAT scores. At Clark Atlanta I was on the debate team, which piqued my interest in litigation. There are no lawyers in my family, so me being at UC Hastings is a very big deal for my family. I am interested in working in youth law to work in the areas of juvenile delinquency and dependency, as well as education law. Eventually, I’d like to be a juvenile court judge.

What drives her: I come from a single-parent household, and I’m the oldest. I have siblings and younger cousins looking up to me and expecting me to do great things. My brother was in and out of the juvenile justice system, and it did not hold up to the standards as it was designed.

Her favorite course so far: Torts, with Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza. She brings in a lot of public policy themes.

Where you will find her in her off hours: I go visit my family in Oakland. We’re pretty close, and it gives me an opportunity to clear my mind of all things law-related. I also volunteer at the girls’ unit at Juvenile Hall with Queen’s Bench. And I’m running through “The Blacklist” on Netflix.

Her HBCU experience: I have an aunt who went to a historically black university. She shared with me how the HBCU experience was fundamental to her sense of pride as a black person and made sure that I was around like-minded individuals as I grew up. But Atlanta is very different from California. I’m used to being around so many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, I loved the sense of black unity that was evident throughout the city. Honestly, the biggest detriment was that there is no Mexican food. I literally ate chicken wings for four years.

Advice for prospective students: Keep your eye on your prize. Don’t look at anyone else’s, and don’t let them look at yours and distort your view of your goals.

Pro food tip: You gotta go to the Mission for tacos and burritos. I also order a lot from Los Hermanos Taqueria. Get the nachos.

What the scholarship means to her: It’s like literally winning the lottery. Coming from a single-parent home with limited resources, I am grateful that I could relieve myself and my family from the stress of having to worry about tuition.

Marcus Kennedy-Grimes

Name: 1L Marcus Kennedy-Grimes

Undergrad: Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Why he’s at UC Hastings Law: As a native of Oakland, I always knew of UC Hastings Law and the prestigious history the institution carries. I’m interested in Intellectual Property law, so Hastings being located in the Bay Area only further added to my desire to attend the school.

What drives him: I’m looking at criminal law, or intellectual property. It’s early. Nothing is set in stone yet.

His favorite course so far: I have really loved Criminal Law with Professor Lois Weithorn. She really helps us get to the theory and policy behind the law. She’s great.

Where you will find him in his off hours: When I have some free time, I love to play pickup basketball and participate in Hastings intermural basketball league. If I’m not in the gym, you’ll likely find me de-stressing by listening to music in my room.

His HBCU experience: Howard has a very strong alumni network, particularly among alumni of color, in all different fields, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs. I majored in legal communications, and minored in business administration. I was in leadership in a Bible study group and played flag football. Being around so many motivated African-Americans was an amazing experience and it pushed me to achieve at a high level in everything I did.

Advice for prospective students: I think a lot of people entering law school think they have to be perfect, that everything has to be perfect, and if they happen to trip along the way, everything is just going to go straight downhill. That’s the complete opposite of the mindset you need. You are going to be tripped up along the way. It’s all about how you handle the slips and falls, and not let them define you.

Public service: As an intern with the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability I assisted in reviewing citizens’ complaints about the police. A portion of the work consisted of analyzing body worn camera footage and reviewing department policies in order to aid in a neutral investigation of SFPD officers. I found the work fulfilling, as if I was doing some small thing to help mend rifts between the community and the officers.

What the scholarship means to him: Law school has been a dream of mine since I was in eighth grade. I learned I received the scholarship about a week after I was admitted, when Bryan Zerbe, Director of Admissions, called me. The email announcement that I had been chosen for the scholarship went to my spam folder. I got kind of lucky there. Always check your spam folder. When I learned it was finally going to happen, it’s hard to ask for anything more.

Name: 1L Kameelah Sims-Traylor

Undergrad: Spelman College, Atlanta, GA

Why she’s at UC Hastings Law: I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid. I also wanted to be a soccer player and veterinarian, but I definitely wanted to be a lawyer. Of all of my childhood dream jobs, the desire to be an attorney remained. And after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, that desire to be an agent for change in the judicial system only increased. I plan to practice criminal defense law and continue my mission for positive institutional change.

What drives her: Because my dad is a lawyer, I was exposed to the law when I was very young. So growing up as a black woman on top of that, I was aware early on of various injustices, such as racially discriminatory policing practices, and how the legal system disproportionally impacts people of color. I want to have an impact in righting those wrongs as a criminal defense attorney. One of my goals in life is to be as uplifting as I can to the black community.

Her favorite course so far: Property, with Professor John Crawford. He is able to engage the class, and stick to the curriculum while going in depth with the students at the same time. But contracts, with Professor Jeff Lefstin, is the content I’m drawn to. It’s very theoretical, and I love to be able to solve puzzles in that way. I also really appreciate his direct and fast-paced teaching style.

Where you will find her in her off hours: I am working my way through “Criminal Minds,” and also “King of the Hill.” I also like to walk around the city and check out new parks. A real treat is reading a book for leisure.

Her HBCU experience: I was initially apprehensive about attending Spelman because of my desire to get out of the small liberal arts experience. However, I applied because my dad went to Morehouse and my mother attended Clark Atlanta University. After enrolling and being enveloped in meaningful bonds with my peers, I was able to have an impactful and fundamentally encouraging experience. I am extremely proud that Spelman College is my alma mater.

Advice for prospective students: Try out new things. Put yourself out there. Take risks that get you out of your comfort zone a little bit. That said, I recommend getting into some positive time management habits as soon as possible. Set a schedule for yourself and start your outlines early.

Her secret skill: I am conversational in French and Mandarin. I began taking French in middle school, and soon reached the highest level they offered in high school— then I took Mandarin. I studied abroad in China and lived with a family that spoke no English. I really enjoyed it, and my academic and personal interest in East Asia has since taken on a life of its own.

What the scholarship means to her: Mario Lopez in Admissions came and spoke at Spelman during my senior year. Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention because at that point I was applying for jobs and putting off law school. Ironically though, that semester I was working for a tax attorney who graduated from UC Hastings. After I stopped the job search and committed to law school, I passed a flyer for UC Hastings posted on my department’s bulletin and put two and two and two together. So I feel very fortunate and grateful to be part of this inaugural year of the scholarship.

Photo of Genessa Nabors
Genessa Nabors

Name: 1L Genessa Nabors

Undergrad: Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Why she’s at UC Hastings Law: In my junior year at Howard, I took a business law class. The material was pretty provocative, and it became the only class that I was genuinely interested in and found myself engaged with. The following year I took some pre-law classes, including a technical writing course. I’ve always loved to write, and I loved the challenge of taking complicated concepts and simplifying them.

What drives her: A desire to help others, particularly people of color, in a way that no one else can. Not to say that I’m the smartest person on the planet, but everyone thinks differently; my particular perspective could highlight something someone else would overlook.

Her favorite course so far: I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised. I love all my professors. I really appreciate Professor Emily Murphy, who teaches Contracts. She’s brilliant, funny, encouraging, supportive, and never makes anyone feel dumb.

Where you will find her in her off hours: I like to go to Professor Stefano Moscato’s office hours and hang out. I still love to read for fun; I could spend days reading YA paranormal fantasy.

Her HBCU experience: My mom’s side of the family is white, and I grew up with them for the most part, in predominantly white communities and in predominantly white schools. The black side of my family, my dad’s side, is in Alabama and I never really got a chance to know them, so I was excited to experience black culture and black pride on such historic ground as Howard University.

Advice for prospective students: Some people can’t believe it, but I am an introvert. Having that predilection at HU was tough. I feel like in the black community, the people you notice are the outgoing ones and that just wasn’t me at the time. I was determined to have a different experience at Hastings. I showed up on the first day of orientation with a personalized UC Hastings shirt, Class of 2022 in big letters, with my name on the back. Everyone thought I was a 2L (ha!). I think I talked to every single person there. Now I’m really tight with most of the LEOP family. I know a lot of students outside of my own Inn, I socialize more, and we have a lot of harmonious ideas.

You should talk to everyone, literally everyone. Networking is really just making an effort to get to know people and to help them understand you. That said, remember that your professional career starts when law school starts – there aren’t real breaks anymore – so be ready to dive in.

Tips on San Francisco: I love to get food in Hayes Valley. That neighborhood reminds me a lot of Portland. The ASUCH president basically forced us to go outside and hang out in Dolores Park, and that was surprisingly nice, even for me as an indoor human. And I recently discovered this Filipino restaurant on Jones Street, Tselogs. Great lumpia and pancit. I could happily eat my way through SF.

Career goals: I’m dead set on being a progressive prosecutor, though I resent the idea of promoting social justice and fairness as being “progressive”- it should be inherent to the job. I would love to work for San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. I definitely want to be a judge one day so that I can make a real, lasting impact on the law of this country. Luckily, having been exposed to most of the 1L doctrinal substance in my Paralegal Program at Portland Community College, I grasp most of the concepts rather quickly.

What the scholarship means to her: I actually never thought I would come back to California, especially the Bay Area because of the high cost of living. It was an incredibly difficult choice to leave Portland, where I had made a home for myself, but you don’t walk away from this kind of opportunity. I never expected to be so fortunate. After Admitted Students Day at UCH, no other school had a chance. I love this community; I’m 100% sure this is where I was meant to be.