Melinda Oliver had been refreshing her email routinely for the past few days, waiting on a notification that might change her life.
When she didn't receive an email by 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, however, she decided to take her dog for a walk. She figured the business day was nearly over and that she probably wouldn't be hearing from DePaul University College of Law that day.
She was proven wrong when 15 minutes later the message finally arrived. She braced herself as she opened the email, but she hadn't needed to. Oliver had not only been accepted to the program, but she had been awarded an annual $40,000 scholarship in recognition of her "achievements, personal qualities and potential to contribute to the DePaul community."
"I called my sister, huffing and puffing and immediately she asked me, 'what's wrong?'" Oliver said. "I told her nothing was wrong, but that I'd been accepted to law school with a scholarship and I was overwhelmed."
Oliver said she also told some friends about her achievement and celebrated with them as she waited to tell her mom, Linda, who adopted her as a single mother and who has been her "biggest supporter." The 25-year-old was expecting her mom to be excited, but she wasn't anticipating just how happy the acceptance would make her. Oliver decided to share Linda's reaction with others in an attempt to "showcase black joy."
"If you need to see a little black joy, please watch my moms reaction when I told her I got into law school with a $40,000 annual scholarship," she tweeted, alongside a video of her mom jumping and crying of happiness in reaction to her law school acceptance. The video, which was posted Wednesday morning, has since been viewed more than two million times.
"I saw that she was on the phone with a friend, so I decided to just spring the news on her when she'd least expect it," Oliver said. "She helped me file my taxes, so at first I pretended it was a letter from the IRS as a joke."
The video has resonated with many, including Daniel Franchise, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, who said that he would buy Oliver's books and airfare next semester.
"Law school changed my life; I’m sure it will change yours," Franchise wrote. "My god son’s mom went to DePaul for law school. Happy to connect you two!"
While the good news would have been exciting regardless of when she received it, Oliver's acceptance and her ability to share it has heightened significance as protests against the police violence that disproportionately affects black people continue across the country.
"We've all been watching what's going on. I'm from St. Louis, so I've seen this play out both in my hometown and nationally," Oliver said. "It's traumatic and hurtful to see people saying disrespectful things and sharing videos of violence as well as to not be supported in schools and workplaces."
Given the routine violence black people are subjected to, Oliver wanted to share the news of her acceptance as a reminder that "black people are still out there."
"We're still out there, we're still happy, we're still living, we're still finding joy and we still have community," Oliver said.
Oliver, who co-owns The Collective STL, a nonprofit yoga studio committed to improving black health in the area, said her journey to law school "was not the smoothest." She was working full-time at Rescue Agency in Washington, D.C., a job that required a lot of travel, during the application process so that she could pay off her undergraduate student loans from University of Missouri. She often found herself hunkering down in hotel lobbies, on planes and wherever and whenever else she could find a spare moment to study for the LSAT, the law school admittance exam.
"My mom has a Master's in speech pathology but there are no doctors or lawyers in my family," Oliver said. "I didn't fully understand the cost of paying for the LSAT or what the whole application process would entail. I felt discouraged many times, but my mom has been there every step of the way."
According to a 2017 survey from Law360, black attorneys are vastly underrepresented among every level of law with only 3 percent of lawyers at the more than 300 firms surveyed identifying as black.
Yet as Oliver gears up to begin her studies in public interest law, Oliver hopes that her story will encourage other people, especially black women, to continue aiming toward their dreams.