Michaela Friend
Aspiring human rights lawyer Michaela Friend has achieved much in her short time at VCU and wants to help those who have been historically marginalized. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Class of 2020: Transfer student Michaela Friend aims to defend the rights of others

An aspiring human rights lawyer, Friend achieved much in her short time at VCU and wants to help those who have been historically marginalized.

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Receiving the Black History in the Making Award two years in a row (from the Department of African American Studies in 2019 and the Department of Political Science in 2020), were some of Michaela Friend’s most memorable moments at Virginia Commonwealth University. The award, established in 1983, recognizes the achievements of African American students at the university.

“I couldn't believe it. I thought that it was so amazing that they would choose me for such an award, being that I never thought college was a possibility for me, let alone doing well,” said Friend, who will graduate in December from the College of Humanities and Sciences with bachelor’s degrees in African American studies and political science.

That recognition was the validation Friend needed to confirm that her lifelong journey of withstanding adversity has paid off. At one point, attending college did not feel like a reality because of past traumas in her childhood.

It was the presence of a strong mentor that gave Friend the confidence to enroll at Thomas Nelson Community College, which then put her on the path to VCU. Friend, a native of Hampton, Virginia, made a mark at VCU in her short time at the university through her academic achievements and active campus involvement. 

At VCU, Friend held numerous leadership roles where she mentored others. She served as a peer mentor for first-generation college students, in which she connected students to campus resources and was an advocate for their success. Additionally, Friend was the vice president of Amnesty International at VCU and attended a national human rights conference in Chicago. During her final semester of college, Friend was initiated into the Eta Tau Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which allowed her to continue making an impact on campus.

Academically, she soaked in the lessons of favorite professors in the African American studies department, including Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D. I’Anson, an assistant professor, is the familiar voice of NPR underwriting, the inaugural director of community podcasting at the Institute for Contemporary Art, and the teacher of a number of popular courses on media and society, including Podcasting While Black.

“Every time he speaks, I just have my eyes and my ears open,” Friend said.

Her career goals — to practice human rights law — were confirmed following a service-learning trip in 2019 with political science assistant professor Alexandra Reckendorf, Ph.D. The trip to Georgia and Alabama took Friend, Reckendorf, and 13 others to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, among other notable civil rights landmarks. 

“It was such an awesome experience, definitely surreal,” Friend said. “It was during this trip where I was 100 percent sure human rights law was something that I definitely wanted to do, needed to do. High school was the first time I became aware of the extent of state violence with respect to Black and brown people, and that is what initially interested me in human rights law.” 

There was not a specific incident of state violence that galvanized her, but rather, Friend felt enlightened about the many ways in which Black and brown people have historically been disenfranchised not only locally, but globally. As a part of the civil unrest that occurred over the summer after the death of George Floyd, Friend and one of her classmates participated in the Black Women Matter rally in Richmond to protest violence against Black women. 

“The demonstration was powerful [for us] and [we both felt] it was so moving to see people fighting for us and with us,” said Tylar Evans, Friend’s classmate and sorority sister. “Micky is one of the most passionate and selfless people I know. I am so sure that her tenacity, empathy and courage will lead her to continue to be a voice for the voiceless.”

Friend’s passion fuels her to chase her dreams and fight for her community. The VCU TRiO Student Support Services office, which provides guidance for low-income and first-generation students, has helped Friend prepare to take her next professional steps. She is determined to apply to law school and dedicate her life to justice.

“I’ve been on quite the journey but I continue to persevere because I am on a mission,” Friend said. “I have goals that I plan to achieve. I have dreams that I will bring to fruition. I can and I will make a difference!”