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Perseverance in Profile 10 W DIVERSITY & THE BAR® MARCH/APRIL 2012


hen University of Virginia

School of Law

Professor Kim Forde-Mazrui was 10, he con-

tracted a case of chickenpox that left him legally blind.

His blindness not only forced him

to be a self-reliant problem solver, but also made him cognizant of his reliance on other people. “When I became legally blind, I

received a lot of love and support from others,” he says, “which helped me cope with what was happening. T e help I got from my parents, brothers, friends, teachers, and other profession- als taught me that whatever success I would have would not be due solely to my talent and drive.” While both of his parents sup-

ported him, his mother took primary responsibility for the practicalities. “She took me to several doctors

to diagnose the cause of my blind- ness and to learn how best to use my remaining sight with low-vision aids. She also hired someone to teach me braille and typing, and she introduced me to legally blind mentors. My mom is a no-nonsense Yorkshire woman. Her philosophy was that we just had to deal with it.” Forde-Mazrui took the same prag-

matic approach to adapt to his visual impairment. His condition, optic

nerve atrophy, was caused by a rare genetic disease called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, the onset of which was triggered by chickenpox. Forde-Mazrui’s two older brothers also later developed the condition. “I focused on fi nding things I could do, even if in a

diff erent way,” he says. T is included learning through audio books and develop-

ing skills to compensate for his lack of sight, such as strength- ening his memory. It also meant accepting his limitations. “I was a restaurant dishwasher for a long time during

high school and college in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” he recalls. “Usually, you start out as a dishwasher and then, if you’re responsible, you get promoted to cook or waiter, and if you’re not, you get fi red. I was a good employee but I could not see well enough to cook or wait tables. I did not feel demeaned, however, because I knew I was doing all I could. And I was probably the highest paid dishwasher ever by the time I left.” Coming to terms with his limitations could be diffi cult.

He recalls, for example, his disappointment as a child at no longer being able to play baseball after losing his vision and how he was forced to identify other means of accomplishment. “If I couldn’t be a good ball player,” he says, “I had to fi nd

other ways to value myself, like looking more at how hard I work or how I treat people.” Such experiences shaped his attitude about those

less fortunate. “I’m very strong on not judging people for things that

aren’t their fault, like if they’re poor or have a disability.” T is led Forde-Mazrui to sign up for the Family Law

Project and the Child Advocacy Law Clinic during law school at the University of Michigan. T rough those pro- grams, respectively, he provided legal services to low-income, battered women and to low-income children experiencing abuse or neglect. “I’m not unusual. T e great majority of people help those

in need, many to a degree far more impressive than I do,” he says.


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