Carolina Law Alumni Making a Difference in N.C.: Anita Brown-Graham '91

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Anita Brown-Graham

Read the full article in the Fall-Winter 2013 issue of Carolina Law.

Twenty-three years after graduating from UNC School of Law, Anita R. Brown-Graham is not practicing law.

But she credits her Carolina Law education with allowing her to create a great career that merges her professional life with personal passions.

In her case, that means finding ways to bring people together to improve the economy in North Carolina. Brown-Graham is director of the Institute for Emerging Issues, a center based at N.C. State University that aims to tackle the big issues that affect North Carolina’s future growth and prosperity. The institute hosts a widely attended annual conference, the Emerging Issues Forum, which brings together the most innovative thinkers on topics that are of increasing importance to the state. Most recently topics have included manufacturing, Generation Z and health care.

For her work, Brown-Graham was named a White House Champion of Change this summer. She is also a William C. Friday Fellow, an American Marshall Fellow and an Eisenhower Fellow.

“The skills and perspective I gained in law school prepared me for a wide range of opportunities,” she says.

The first thing she did with those skills was not that unusual for a law school grad: She clerked for a judge, in her case a federal district court judge in California. It was there that she first began to get a sense of how exceptional her Carolina Law experience had been.

“It wasn’t until I got to California, and would sit around with my fellow law clerks who graduated from other law schools across the country, that I realized how insanely lucky we were at Carolina to have the access to professors that we had,” she says. When she started law school, Brown-Graham threw herself into not only the classes, but also extracurricular activities. The faculty at Carolina Law was always there to encourage her efforts.

“One of the things you learn in the classroom at law school is how important it is for you to use your tools to create access opportunities for others,” she says. “The law school gave me the opportunities to do that.”

She mentored youth in the Chapel Hill community while at law school and was coordinator of Minority Law Day her third year. Law school, she says, gave her a chance “to learn how to follow my passions.”

After the clerkship and two years in private practice, she found she was more inspired by the community development and volunteer work she was doing in her spare time than her legal work. It was time to come back to Carolina and figure out a way to turn that passion into a career.

A call to the law school quickly turned up a faculty opportunity at the nearby School of Government. She spent 13 years there, focused mostly on rural communities struggling to revitalize their economies, and in 2007, moved to the Institute for Emerging Issues.

“I tell students to follow their heart, not the career path they’ve laid out for the next 10 years. It has been my experience that unimaginable opportunities will come your way and disrupt the pathway you thought you’d created,” she says. “For me, taking the risk, stepping sideways and following my heart have always been the right things to do.”

-December 6, 2013

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