As she looked into her newborn son’s eyes, Aaliyah Locke made him a promise: She would do whatever it took to succeed.
Five years later, on Mother’s Day with her son cheering her on, she’ll cross the commencement stage to receive her Juris Doctor.
“Graduating on Mother’s Day, surrounded by my family, it’s almost a full circle,” Locke said. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their support and faith in me.”
Growing up in Murphysboro, Illinois, Locke always knew she wanted to go to law school. She was inspired by her family’s dedication and service to the legal system — her grandfather worked as a police officer and correctional officer.
In 2017, Locke gave birth to her son, Quentin, while attending Southern Illinois University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations in 2019. The single mother loved being close to family, especially after her son was born. But she dreamed of opportunities beyond her hometown as she applied to law schools. And then, Claude Reeves Arrington, associate dean of admissions for The University of Alabama Law School, called.
“Most schools send emails and letters when you’re accepted, but I vividly remember Dean Arrington calling me,” Locke said. “It was 6:30 or 7 p.m. and she was still in her office, but she called to tell me I was accepted and had a scholarship offer. The Law School personalized the process for me and that spoke volumes.”
As she was listening to Arrington talk, Locke’s mind quickly went to planning for her and Quentin’s future. Attending school more than 400 miles from her family support system would not be easy, but Locke was determined to let nothing stand in the way of fulfilling her promise to Quentin.
In addition to being a full-time law student spending 30 or more hours per week studying or in class, Locke also worked as a legal intern and research assistant part time to support herself and her son. As Quentin’s sole caregiver, if he was sick or his daycare was closed, Locke would have to miss class or work. But Locke said she quickly found “her village” in a supportive system of faculty, administrators and fellow students.
“There’s a stigma about law school that it’s a very cold environment, and you’re left to figure everything out on your own,” Locke said. “That hasn’t been my experience. My professors over the years have gone out of their way to ensure I had class notes and access to them during the times when being a mom took precedent. Even aside from school, there’s always been an intentionality to make sure that I as a person am OK and handling each aspect of my life.”
Locke felt called to help pave the way for others like her — parents who wanted to pursue law degrees. Locke got involved in Parents Attending Law School, a support and resource group that aims to assist students with local resources. She became its leader and biggest champion, working with school administrators to expand its efforts in attracting students with diverse backgrounds, increasing scholarship opportunities and more.
“I’m a student, but also a mom, because life still happens outside of law school, and we have to adapt,” she said. “I wanted to help other parents be able to come to and thrive in law school because life isn’t going to stop for school, so why not make it more accessible?”
Locke knows her time at UA has only furthered that promise she made to her son. After graduation, she will continue to pave her own path in Birmingham, as a first-year associate at Baker Donelson law firm.
“This is the start for me. I’m still figuring out my place in this world and what I can contribute to it, but this is definitely not the climax of my story,” she said. “All I can say is, stay tuned.”
Caroline Gazzara-McKenzie, UA Strategic Communications, email@example.com