Henry Tanner, Jr., a native of Kansas City, is the academic chair for the Black Law Students Association, an associate member of the Journal of Dispute Resolution and is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
How did you feel when you came to law school?
I was scared, petrified. I don’t come from a family of practitioners; so, I didn’t know what to expect. I was cast into a new environment that was a little intimidating. I also felt privileged to be admitted. It was humbling because a lot of people from my circumstances don’t get the opportunity, let alone take advantage of the opportunity, to pursue legal education.
What were your circumstances?
First, I’m an African American male which comes with certain expectations from the legal community. Second, I’m from the inner city (5300 block of Hardesty in the Southeast area of Kansas City) and most of the people in my community were not pursuing bachelor’s degrees, let alone professional degrees. While I grew up in a loving and stable home and had a good educational experience (Lincoln College Preparatory Academy), certain aspects of my larger community were treacherous. In Kansas City, my zip code was once known as the murder factory.
Although I had gone to Mizzou for undergrad, I was very nervous about law school. But, once I got here I did feel welcomed.
What made you feel welcomed?
The environment. I expected a certain professional nature and atmosphere with faculty and staff. But, with the students, it was more of an inclusive atmosphere.
What do you hope to do with your law degree?
I want to represent my community in a positive light and try to force change by leading by example. I am the only soon to be lawyer in my large family. I was raised in a blended family that included my parents, 2 brothers, and 5 sisters.
When I go home to visit my family, immediate and extended, everyone looks at me, especially the kids. I have a 13 year old little cousin named Little Joe. During one of my visits he said, “You getting your law degree? How long does that take?” I said “Three years.” And, he said, “I want to do that.”
I don’t think he would have come to that conclusion if he did not know me because I know I didn’t think that when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I thought being a lawyer was unnecessary. I didn’t think I had to do all that to get what I wanted out of life; but, I was young and immature. When you see someone that you know personally doing something, or that looks like you, it makes it that much more conceivable and attainable.
A lot of the people of my age are moving to New York, Atlanta, or D.C., but I feel like I have to go back to Kansas City. It’s like an obligation. I have no desire to move away because there is a lot that needs to be done and I would be doing Kansas City a disservice by not going home.