Humans of St. Thomas introduces us to some of the incredible members of the St. Thomas community. Read about more of our fellow Tommies here.Meet Paris Yarbrough, St. Thomas School of Law student, Page Scholar, proud east St. Paul native, world traveler and smoothie lover.
It’s telling that in the opening minutes of me “interviewing” her at Coffee Bene just off campus, Paris Yarbrough asked all the questions. As a St. Thomas School of Law second year and Page Scholar, it was immediately clear she’s the kind of person who can and will gather information about anything and everything, and then be genuinely excited about it.
Once the questioning role flipped, it was equally clear how much excitement there is in her own life’s path. Without any aid of the caffeine surrounding us (she’s never liked coffee; more on her smoothie love later), she navigated me through just that: growing up as the youngest of five kids (including her twin brother) on the east side of St. Paul; attending Augsburg College for her undergraduate degree; working in charter schools; and coming to St. Thomas for her law degree.
Within that growth was the complexity of being raised in a community and family struggling with many factors: Yarbrough’s father was incarcerated for 21 years of her life; her mother battled addiction. A regular at the east St. Paul Boys and Girls Club, Paris’ community helped raise her and others collectively, keeping her safe and pointed toward a path of higher education after Harding High School.
Throughout that time Yarbrough recognized the injustices of her black community members being so overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and the overpolicing of her neighborhood that contributed to it. It was easy to view the role of lawyers, she said, as acting in lockstep with police to keep these wheels of incarceration in motion. As a lawyer herself, she can work toward changing that narrative.
Beginning her first year at Augsburg University and continuing throughout her undergraduate career, Yarbrough lived out the Page Scholars mission by serving youth in her community. Working with immigrant and refugee students, she began to identify more and more the systematic means of marginalization they – as well as she and her own community – faced. It was then she began plans to transition her political science interests toward pursuing a law degree, where she could help shift the power of law away from a negative impact in her community into a positive one.
After working a number of years in the Twin Cities charter school system, Yarbrough sought out St. Thomas as the means to that end. As a graduate Page Scholar she has continued her work in the community, now returning to the same Boys & Girls Club in east St. Paul she spent so much time at growing up. As president of the Black Law Students Association, Yarbrough has also emerged as a student body leader, further solidifying the foundations of her bright future.
In getting to know Yarbrough, I also asked her some of our favorite Humans of St. Thomas questions.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I just went to Ghana recently, and that was my first time to Africa. I wanted to go there as a black American, as a descendant of enslaved Africans. Ghana has one of the two largest ports that slaves were forced through. On one hand I heard it was a great place to visit, one of the most peaceful, welcoming West African nations, and for that historical aspect. … It’s quite possible my ancestors were taken from that area.
If I could go to another place it would probably be Liberia. We have one of the largest Liberian populations in the country, and I’m learning a lot more about the involvement of freed slaves in the founding of Liberia. They sent a group of freed slaves back to Liberia to essentially help colonize the indigenous Liberian people. I would want to go back to learn more about that history. … I want to invest in black communities in the U.S. because that’s where I’m from, but I don’t feel tied down to anywhere. A lot of that has to do with not knowing a lot about our history as black Americans. I feel like a lot of different places are home, so I want to learn more about Ghana, Liberia. There’s a lot of beauty in West Africa. The people are so happy there.
You’re going on a trip for a year but don’t know where you’re going. What would you pack if you only had 15 minutes to pack?
I would bring my tablet. Also a journal, so I could truly be present in the moment and document my journey wherever I’m going. I would bring something to wrap my hair in (laughing); my hair’s really important to me. … The journal would be important. I have a tendency to get immersed in things when I get there, so helping me remain present but reminding me of where I’ve been.
What’s your ideal day?
Working out, for sure. I wish I could do more of it in law school but all I want to do is study; you feel bad doing anything but that. But working out is truly my time where I’m able to think about nothing else but working out, or the other creative things I like to do. I’ll spend time brainstorming about things I could do besides law: opening a business, creating a communal space for people to come in and express themselves through spoken word or whatever. I really love smoothies and have never drank coffee despite all my years of schooling. So my ideal business would be a smoothie shop in a community space, run by the community. So thinking about that is part of my ideal day.
I would also go to a play or concert; I really love plays. … I would go see one of my favorite artists. (Who’s your favorite?) I would go see this guy from Belgium. I studied in Belgium during undergrad my senior year. There’s this international artist, Stromae; he’s Belgian and Rwandan, and he’s really talented. He’s one of the most amazing performers I’ve ever seen; I saw him live once in Minneapolis and it was the craziest show I’ve ever been to. So I would see him live again. … And then ending my day watching “Living Single” or “Girlfriends,” with no homework.