At the age of 22, Brittany Reaves has made history as being one of the youngest students to ever graduate from North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) School of Law, being the first to earn a dual degree from the institution’s joint juris doctor/ Master of Arts in History program.
“I became interested in law when I was 12 years old,” said Reaves. “Through a community service program in my hometown of Fayetteville, I became close with a few district court judges who became mentors and allowed me to shadow them as a student at Cumberland International Early College High School. They were also graduates of NCCU School of Law.”
With 86 college credits under her belt, Reaves received her high school diploma at age 17, leaving her with only a year of university-level courses required to obtain her bachelor’s degree.
She earned her degree in history from Fayetteville State University in spring 2019 with the goal of beginning law school in the fall; however, many schools were reluctant to accept her.
“When it was time for me to start picking schools, a lot of people were hesitant about taking 18-year-olds,” explained Reaves. “Although my GPA, LSAT scores were good; and everything else looked good on paper, when schools came across my age, it was a negative factor. I wasn’t getting positive responses.”
It was an encounter with an NCCU School of Law Admissions staff member at a conference in Miami, Fla., that reassured Reaves that she would fulfill her lawyer dreams.
“I was really scared to let him know my age based on the negative feedback I’d received,” she said. “However, after I shared my age, he responded that ‘I think you will do great at [NCCU]; you just need a certain level of support.’ Just hearing him say that really let me know right away that I would be going to [NCCU]. He believed I was capable in being successful at the school.”
Reaves was accepted within three weeks of submitting her application and couldn’t have been more thankful for her experience at the law school.
“This has been one of the most transformative personal and professional experiences that I’ve had in such a short amount of time,” she said. “I grew up at NCCU Law; it made me more grounded. I voted for the first time while taking constitutional law and I took a property course before I had my first apartment lease. Unlike my peers who were able to experience life a bit and then apply that perception to law courses, I was experiencing both at the same time.”
She is also grateful for the demographic of the law school and the opportunity to being surrounded by Black women.
“That really helped me in having the support that I needed,” Reaves explained. “As a first-generation law student, I didn’t have a lot of guidance from my immediate family as to what law school entailed. I got that support from the students, faculty and staff – both inside and outside the classroom – at NCCU. The support system is unmatched.”
When thinking about faculty members who provided invaluable assistance on her journey, she noted, “Phyliss Craig-Taylor who understood her perspective as an 18-year-old college graduate; Irving Joyner for his wisdom and confirming that I was on the right path; former law professor and current district court judge Dorothy Harris Mitchell who helped me with criminal law work; and former interim dean and current City of Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal who provided spiritual and academic guidance.”
Inspired by her father, an Army veteran, and the work she has done at the NCCU School of Law’s Veterans Clinic, Reaves is committed to assisting these individuals with benefit and discharge issues.
“Fayetteville has one of the highest homeless veteran populations in the nation with women and children being affected the most. Witnessing how detrimental it can be to not have benefits through the clinic, taught me how to bridge that gap.”
She is also interested in becoming a legal historian and would like to teach constitutional law at a university.
Her advice for future Eagles?
“Don’t place limitations on yourself. If there is something that you are interested in, use the resources provided by NCCU to make it happen.”