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Black Excellence: Jonathan N. Kernizan (’20)

This month, STU Law will feature some of our amazing students, faculty, and staff for #BlackHistoryMonth.  Meet St. Thomas University College of Law alumnus Jonathan N. Kernizan (’20)!

Jonathan N. Kernizan (’20)

Associate Attorney at Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig LLP (Tampa, FL)

Mr. Kernizan was born and raised in Puerto Rico. A proud afro-latino, “Shout out to my fellow Afro-Latinxs!” While at St. Thomas University College of Law, he was involved in various organizations and leadership positions on campus. He is the former Vice President of Black Law Student Association (BLSA) in 2018-2019; E-Board on Trial Team, Comments Editor in St. Thomas Law Review, Student Bar Association Senator, and a Governor of The Florida Bar YLD Law Student Division.

What does Black excellence mean to you? Black excellence comes in many forms. My definition of black excellence simply means excelling while being black. Wearing the skin we wear often comes with barriers our counterparts do not have to overcome. Excelling in spite of these barriers should be celebrated, and that is what #blackexcellence is all about.

How do you embody Black excellence? I try to embody black excellence by striving at everything I do. I am proud to have graduated in the top 15% of the ’20 class while being very involved in extracurricular activities at STU Law, and working most semesters. Nonetheless, “job’s not finished.”

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate Black History Month? Black History is American History. Throughout the month of February, we get the chance to learn about, and celebrate, the contributions the African-American community has made to the world. This month is also important because it gives us the opportunity to learn more about how far we have come as a country while also focusing on how much we still have to improve.

Do you have someone in the Black community that you look up to? Yes, a lot. The Obamas, Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, among many others. To do something that has never been done before is an incredible feat, and purposely subjecting yourself to the hatred of others is as much of a sacrifice as any other. These individuals give me the courage to not be afraid of being different, and not letting the color of my skin get in the way of achieving excellence.

According to the ABA, only 5% of lawyers are African American. What does being a black lawyer mean to you? We live in a state that took a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States to exclude blacks from its universities. State of Fla. ex rel. Hawkins v. Bd. of Control, 350 U.S. 413 (1956). This type of systematic racism on the part of our own government created the ripple effect of many of us not having a tradition of higher education in our families. Becoming a part of, and growing, the 5% means we beat the odds, and accomplished something the next generation of young black boys and girls can strive for. However, it also means that we are entering a profession where we are often likely to be the only black person in the room. I urge my colleagues to take this both as an honor, and as a responsibility to grow the 5% to a figure more representative of the U.S. population.

Parting thoughts? To all black students, and all other students at STU Law that feel different from the pack: keep going. The profession needs you. Please feel free to reach out to me at if I can ever be of any assistance.

Follow Mr. Kernizan on Instagram: @kernizan_

Yamile Rodriguez

Author Yamile Rodriguez

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