NAACP Law Fellows Visit Kellogg’s

On June 18th, the other NAACP Law Fellows—Karen, Andre’, Sierra, and Darren—and I arrived in Battle Creek, Michigan to visit with members of the legal department at Kellogg’s. “Law” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of the famous breakfast company, but I quickly learned that Kellogg’s is home to a cheerful team of accomplished attorneys and legal staffers with stories to tell and the type of advice that only comes from a lifetime of reaching for the top. From our initial dinner meeting on Tuesday through our Wednesday afternoon departure, I knew we were in good hands.

Our suits all fit a little tighter after our Tuesday night feast with members of Kellogg’s legal team, but on Wednesday (after Apple Jacks and Eggos with peanut butter—thanks for the tip, Mike Sagara!) it was down to business. Throughout the day, we met with lawyers from several practice areas, all with one thing in common: they left impressive jobs in big cities to join General Counsel Gary Pilnick’s legal team in Battle Creek, Michigan. Gary told us that he only hires people who want to grow, who become invested in their jobs on a personal level, and who can aspire to uphold the company’s core values. These values include accountability, integrity, and a department favorite, “humility and hunger to learn."

Tara O’Connor, an employment lawyer in the “People Practice Group” introduced us to Ja’Ethel Williams and Norma Barnes-Euresti, also attorneys in the People Group. For me, this session was a turning point. After serving as a student attorney for two semesters at the National Association of the Deaf, I really started to feel like I belonged in the public interest world fighting for civil rights through anti-discrimination litigation. Norma gave me pause. She too fights for civil rights and has always been committed to public service. Before moving to Keebler (now Kellogg), she worked with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, the Illinois Human Rights Commission, and as an Administrative Law Judge. But according to Norma, it wasn’t until she came in-house at Keebler that she felt like she had the opportunity to change minds and really make a difference. Instead of putting out fires with litigation after a mistake is made, the People Practice attorneys take a proactive role in preventing discrimination. In so doing, they foster a wholesome work environment and promote exemplary corporate citizenship.

The Kellogg’s legal team believes, as I now do,  that any lawyer—whether she finds herself working for the NAACP or for a gigantic breakfast corporation—can do good and serve the public interest by upholding the right values, seeking out challenges, and proactively pursuing what is “right” rather than what is easy. This is what it means to have a “civil rights state of mind,” and at Kellogg’s, they’ve got it!

Lucy B. Bansal is entering her third year at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She is a Benjamin R. Civiletti Leadership Scholar and an Associate Editor of the Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender, and Class, as well as a former president of the Maryland Law chapter of the Women’s Bar Association. Lucy is one of five law students selected to participate in this year’s NAACP Kellogg’s Law Fellow program. Kellogg supports the fellows’ civil rights and in-house legal work at the NAACP both financially and by providing fellows the opportunity to learn from Kellogg’s own legal staff during their visit to the Battle Creek Headquarters.