Kameelah Sims-Traylor

On her way to becoming a criminal defense attorney, and eventually, an international investigative journalist. She is also among the inaugural cohort of the UC Hastings California Scholars Program


Nominated by Deborah Sims Fard

“Kameelah Sims-Traylor is well on her way to becoming a criminal defense attorney, and eventually, an international investigative journalist. She is also among the inaugural cohort of the UC Hastings California Scholars Program. Under the “3+3” program, students will spend their first three years at Spelman and the following three years at UC Hastings Law in San Francisco. The program allows students to obtain their bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctorate in six years rather than the typical seven. “I feel very fortunate and grateful to be part of this inaugural year of the scholarship,” said Sims-Traylor. “As a kid, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Of all of my childhood dream jobs, the desire to be an attorney remained. I plan to practice criminal defense law and continue my mission for positive institutional change.” #SpelmanStories.”

My Black Colorado Interview

So I wanted to ask you a little bit about your background. Are you from Denver?

I was born and raised in Denver. A lot of my family was around when I was younger and living in Colorado. A lot of them are still there. That’s where my base is, I have many friends, family, school connections, activists, and grassroots connections in Denver, but I left for high school. I actually went to high school in California at a boarding school, then college in Atlanta, and now I’m in law school, back in San Francisco. So yeah, born and raised in Denver and I would call it home.

What do you think others would say that they like about you the most and why?

I would say that people like my ability to bring together all the voices in the room, be able to highlight all the perspectives, really be conscious of inclusivity, and making sure that all voices are heard. I think often times, especially when you’re in a leading position, it’s often easy to overlook people that aren’t speaking loudly. It’s easy to focus and concentrate on the loudest voices in the room or the most popular ideas. But I think it’s important to recognize the diversity of thought you have in different situations and bring that out. Yeah, so I think that’s something that people really like about how I interact with others.

So you care about just people being heard and marginalized people having a voice?

That’s absolutely true and is a massive driver for the way I interact. Still, I think what that does is generates a better product, a better solution, and a better outcome. Just sticking with the majority or the dominant view generally is not going to be as nuanced as considering, you know, holistic perspectives. So I think it has a lot of benefits to operating in that way. And then it also makes the people that you’re in the room with and the community around you stronger, more connected. Each person then has their own respect and their voice that they’re able to bring to the table.

What’s the best advice someone has given you recently? 

You know I’ve had conversations, 2020 has been such a hard year, and so I’ve had many insightful and motivating conversations. Probably the biggest takeaway that I’ve had from some of those conversations is that in order to be a bridge, to be the kind of leader I want to be, I have to make sure all parts of me are also grounded. So, what my mentor said to me was that in order to be a bridge you have to have all four corners grounded. Bridges are stretched wide, stretched thin, and walked all over. So it’s important to make sure your priority is about yourself. To be able to maintain centeredness and strength on your own accord in order to benefit other people is really important and easy to forget when you want to be someone that’s giving, or to be someone that is that bridge. So I think that was a really great piece of advice.

What is one thing that you want to get better at? 

Definitely one of my goals is communication. I think that communicating with people in any capacity — professional, academic, personal, romantic, friendship — any type of communication is so critical to how people respond to you, to how you’re being understood, and to the connections you can make. Even though I can communicate fine in that I can have a conversation, being a constant learner is my mentality. So, I’m still always working on how I can improve my communication. I always say that linguistics is like a passion of mine. I love learning languages, and I am conversational in other languages, but I still don’t think that I have a full mastery of English! Which is my mother tongue. I feel like I can always get better at the vocabulary I’m using, the way that I phrase things, making what I say accessible. And that’s all part of communication.

What do you think is one piece of advice that you think adults need to hear to better connect with the younger generation?

It’s interesting because I’m at a point where I am an adult, but I am young. I have some experience and insight into connecting older and younger generations. Being young myself and being in school, I’m exposed to a lot of younger people. In different mentorship opportunities I mentor younger people, but I also work professionally with lots of older adults… and so I see an opportunity for growth between the two. Especially as we have seen such chaos from leadership in the federal government over the last several years, and we see a lot of older people in Congress and holding judicial positions, what I think is important for adults to hear to better connect with the younger generation is that they’re not always right. I think they should go into interactions with youth thinking, in fact going into it thinking, that they could be wrong—that they could be corrected. And that’s tough. I think especially in the black community it’s tough because we have these firm ideals about wisdom coming with experience and coming with age and respecting your elders (which of course is true, you should respect your elders). But we have these firmly held beliefs in adults, elders, and older people having the most knowledge, being the most correct, and always offering something for the youth to learn from, which is definitely valid and true in many respects. But at the same time, it’s never flipped; it’s never looked at from the perspective that older adults, or whoever it is, can learn from youth, can learn from young people. Not just the superficial “oh yeah, being around kids has taught me a lot,” but in a real sense. The ideas that the younger generation has right now around climate change, around mental health, around gender fluidity, around sexuality— all of these things are kind of these progressive, new frontiers that the youth are championing and leading with. Sometimes it can be about politics… It’s unfortunate because a lot of older adults who don’t have the mentality of being open-minded, of being able to really learn from youth, are the people in power. You know, a 15 year old is not going to get a job where they have authority over other adults. That’s just usually not going to happen. So what it takes is for those adults that are in power to recognize that young people have actual, visionary ideas to offer and should put some real stock into learning from them.

What accomplishments or awards are you most proud of and why? 

I’ve had different awards in different spaces, but I think the ones that stand out to me the most are co-founding the Black Student Union at my high school. I really was glad to have been in that role, and to have given to that legacy. And also in my first year of law school, I’m in my second year now, I was elected as a student government class rep. It’s not my biggest title or the most prestigious or whatever, but it’s just important to me because that was a time when nobody knew who I was, it was the first part of the year, and just to have that faith from a lot of people in my class that had engaged with me meant a lot to me early on.

Do you have anything you want to share or say to your roots out here in Colorado?

Shout out to my people! It has been a long time that I’ve been away for school and just like traveling and different things, but that’s my hometown. That’s where I’m from. I always talk to people about D-Town and I have to correct them because I’m talking about Denver, not Detroit! I’m glad that I still have some strong roots there. I have a community whenever I go back. I always try and do it around Kwanzaa time because I love going to, you know, to Cleo Parker Robinson dance theater and participating in the Kwanzaa celebration. And I’m happy that I am known to the extent that I am in Denver and miss being out there. I miss my black Coloradans.

Is there anything else you would like to say? Or anything you think might be missed.

I’m just really proud and honored to have the opportunities that I do, and a lot of people have contributed to that over the years. I want to encourage other people in general — young people, older people in the community — to take that first step and pursue, you know, what it is you’re passionate about, what it is that makes you happy, and somewhere that you think you could be impactful. Because your voice is needed and this is a prime opportunity to do that. So, take it!

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