Lawyer, activist, politician and Eckerd College alumna LaRuby May ’97, J.D., visited campus Feb. 9 to speak with Eckerd students about personal and political transformation.
In the Dan and Mary Miller Auditorium, May took a seat in an armchair onstage, casually resting one leg on her knee as she chatted with the event organizer, personal friend, and Professor of American Studies and History Carolyn Johnston, Ph.D. May started her talk by inviting the audience to ask questions and engage with her in conversation.
May had majored in human development and family studies at Eckerd before continuing her education at George Washington University and the University of the District of Columbia. “My experience at Eckerd was remarkable,” she said, although she clarified that by “remarkable” she meant uncommon or unusual. As one of a few people of color on campus in the ’90s, she admitted to feeling isolated, turning to clubs like the Afro American Society for support and encouragement. But May said that experience was instrumental in her life. “My lived experience at Eckerd was part of the transformation I needed for the future.”
Throughout the evening event, May shared her experiences and how they changed her perspective and inspired personal action. She said the thing she hoped students would retain from her talk was the mutable nature of transformation.
“Transformation is fluid. You never stop becoming who you are—it’s human nature for things to move and evolve,” she said.
May referred to transformation as a path or continuum and stressed that the things you experience in the present are necessary for the changes you undergo in the future. Furthermore, she wanted students to know they can power their own transformation. “The greatest part of change is knowing change will come from your own desires.”
One of the most life-changing events in May’s life was the death and subsequent legal case of Stormiyah Denson-Jackson, a 12-year-old girl in her neighborhood with whom May had become close. Denson-Jackson’s family sued the child’s D.C. boarding school under charges of wrongful death, with May leading the charge as the family’s lawyer. The damages, however, for Denson-Jackson’s life were significantly undervalued because of her race and gender, an injustice allowed by law in every state but California. May began a campaign to change this law, and in July 2020, fellow D.C. Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White proposed Bill 23-0837, an amendment that would prohibit the reduction of damages based on race, ethnicity or gender. The bill is named after Stormiyah and will be heard by the D.C. Council on March 8.
At the end of May’s talk, students asked about how to enter the law field, overcome a fear of transformation and create change. May encouraged students to utilize their time at Eckerd, saying, “Take advantage of changing while you’re here. You’ll never have a better opportunity.”