MORGANTOWN – The Black Law Student Association of West Virginia University hosted its eighth annual Soul Food Luncheon in February, a popular event that is more than just a fundraiser. 

“It is absolutely amazing how a simple plate of delicious food lowers inhibitions, increases comfortability and encourages fellowship with one another," T’Keyah Nelms, president of the BLSA, told The West Virginia Record.

Students enjoying Soul Food Luncheon hosted by the BLSA
Students enjoying Soul Food Luncheon hosted by the BLSA | BLSA

Nelms said most WVU students are not minorities, but “they will live in communities with minorities and work with or for members of minority communities. This country prides itself on being a 'melting pot' or a 'salad bowl,' and that pride should be showcased in our academic communities.” 

Founded in 1970, the WVU BLSA chapter does work to improve the relationship between black and minority law students, black and minority attorneys, and the American legal structure.

Nelms said the BLSA strives to “promote the goals of black and minority law students, foster and encourage professional competence, instill a greater awareness and commitment to the needs of minority communities, and influence the legal community by bringing about meaningful legal and political change that addresses the needs and concerns of minority communities.”

The annual Soul Food Luncheon brings students together to relax with comfort food and bring awareness to topics law students may not feel comfortable discussing otherwise. 

“As the president of BLSA, I would like to see and engage in more dialogue about 'controversial' and 'taboo' topics that we generally discuss in circles of people that agree with our own perspectives," Nelms said. "The topics we sweep under the rug and hold closest to us are those important topics that consciously and unconsciously affect our decision making and how we treat others.”. 

Morgantown has a population of more than 30,000. Black people make up a bit more than 5 percent of that number, according to the latest U.S. Census. 

An important aspect of African-American culture, soul food is a down-home comfort food tradition with roots in the Deep South, dating back to a time when slaves made meals with what meager rations they could. The cuisine now represents part of the African-American history that is rich with strife.

 “There is a lack of soul food in the Morgantown area, and the Soul Food Luncheon provides us an opportunity to share traditional comfort food items,” Nelms said. Students often cook “treasured secret family recipes,” Nelms said, adding, “When BLSA students cook for the Soul Food Luncheon, they bring comfort dishes from their respective regions, which often becomes a cultural exchange among members of BLSA as well as WVU Law.”

Created in 2010, the successful luncheon is “a way for BLSA students to share a part of our culture with our classmates, faculty, staff, and members of the community in a relaxed environment,” he said 

By sharing culture through a meal, dialogues between cultures appear to flow openly. 

“We cannot properly serve our future clients and communities if we have not had the opportunity to understand positions and walks of life other than our own,” Nelms said. “By engaging in civil discussion with people that may not agree with our views, we not only strengthen or change our own arguments and beliefs, but we also cultivate empathic, communication, and listening skills — all skills needed to be a proficient professional."

Nelms hopes BLSA continues to make strides in bringing the WVU and Morgantown communities together.

“We are here to become young professionals, and a part of being a well-rounded professional is being comfortable with diverse situations and people," Nelms said.

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