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50 for 50 Spotlight: Tami Barnett ('99, JD '02)

"Pepperdine Caruso Law School is a place where students are empowered with tools to speak out for those that have no voice or opportunity."

RaisingHOPE, a nonprofit organization that Tamalani Barnett (JD '02) co-founded for children in foster care and transitioning aged youth, has been supporting foster youth through the COVID-19 crisis. "The need is so great, we all have to pull together to support each other. If we don't support these youth people they have no one else." The nonprofit has connected youth with housing when their school (or) college dormitories closed, supplied Chromebooks for foster children who attend non-public schools and don't qualify for the district's devices, and provided internet for foster youth living in motels where they cannot access the free wi-fi being offered to students.

Through the tireless efforts of her organization, it is apparent that Barnett embodies the Pepperdine Caruso Law credo of purpose, service, and leadership. She is devoted to the protection of children and the preservation of families. She understands the importance of meaningful mentorship and how these relationships can influence a child's future for the better. "We want children and young adults in foster care to know that their community cares about them, Barnett says, "and we will not let them fall."

Since she was five years old, Barnett knew she wanted to pursue a career in the law. It was a fateful externship at a children's courthouse that led her to a calling in juvenile advocacy. We are proud to feature Tamalani Barnett in the Caruso Law 50 for 50 spotlight series, an alumna who uses her education and leadership skills to truly raise hope.

What initially steered you into the legal field? Did you always know you'd be involved in some capacity with juveniles?

I wanted to go into law since I was a little girl. I wanted to be the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court since I was about five years old. However, when I hit high school, I became sick with a virus that made me question what I wanted to do with my future. When I entered Pepperdine undergrad, I jumped around from major to major trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I ended up studying overseas with a Political Science professor as our faculty family. I loved political science so I decided to major in it. From there, the next logical step in my mind was law school because I felt like I would continue to enjoy learning about policy and the law. In my second year at Pepperdine Law, I almost left because I didn't see myself practicing and torts or property law (no offense to President Gash who was my Torts professor in his first year of teaching!). I went to the externship office and they connected me with an externship at the children's courthouse in Monterey Park. Edelman Children's Courthouse is where almost all of the juvenile dependency allegations of abuse or neglect are heard in LA County. It was there that I realized that I did want to complete law school, and I wanted to represent children who were the alleged victims of abuse or neglect. This is how I ended up in that field working for the Children's Law Center of California.

How did a Pepperdine legal education influence your professional trajectory?

Pepperdine exposed me to this field of law through their externship program. I'm so thankful that they asked me what mattered to me and paired me with an opportunity to work in that field.
Is there someone who played a mentor role for you while in law school?

Is there someone who played a mentor role for you while in law school?

I had some amazing professors throughout law school. That said, I actually think my biggest mentor was a fellow student named Patty. She had lived a few more years than me and she mentored and inspired me with how she lived her life. She was a mom, a law student and a dear friend. She still is a dear friend. She is the one that encouraged me to go to the externship office that day! I'm so grateful.

What do you hope to see for the next fifty years of Pepperdine Caruso Law school and its alumni?

In the next 50 years, I hope Pepperdine Caruso Law School continues to grow its academic reputation, but even more than that I hope it's reputation for service and leadership stands out. Pepperdine University has always been a place that cares about each student, the whole student, and students learn to care for others. Pepperdine Caruso Law School is a place where students are empowered with tools to speak out for those that have no voice or opportunity. I would love to see a clinic dedicated to the protection of children and the preservation of families. I'm hopeful this could happen with the incredible minds and hearts at this school.

To learn more about Barnett's nonprofit, visit the RaisingHOPE website.