The top half of a maple leaf in orange, yellow and brown, with Adinkra visual symbols originating in West Africa

Feb. 23, 2021

Helping family members and others inspires legal career

Law student Senait Yohannes finds a role model in Canada's first Black woman lawyer

Senait Yohannes admits her life was a bit of a challenge growing up in Calgary. But past experiences with law enforcement inspired a desire to help people, and to eventually begin her journey to become a lawyer.  

“Having knowledge of the law is a way to protect yourself and the people you love. Becoming a lawyer is one way I can do this,” she explains. 

Yohannes earned her degree in criminal justice from Mount Royal University, the first person in her family to earn a university degree. She will also be the first lawyer in her family, which they are all pretty excited about. 

“I was brought up with the understanding that you always take care of your family. I will take care of my parents when they get older, and I can make sure that everyone is safe and financially secure. So, this path is not just for me, it is for all of us.” 

Career with UN the ultimate goal 

She had plans to follow a path to criminal law but has discovered the joy of contract and property law in her first year of studies, so is not ready to pigeonhole herself into one area just yet. Her ultimate goal? A career with the United Nations. 

“There is an ongoing refugee crisis in my country, Eritrea, and my family has been directly impacted by it,” says Yohannes. “It is spilling over into Europe with hundreds of people dying in the Mediterranean, or even finding themselves trapped in detention camps. So, whether I can work with the UN as a legal officer helping asylum seekers, a policy-maker, or whatever the role may be, I want to be a part of that solution.” 

In the meantime, she is volunteering with the Calgary chapter of the Black Law Students Association as the vice-president of administration, helping the group build its profile, connecting with Black lawyers in the city, and building networking opportunities for law students. She also strongly believes in the importance of sharing this history of Black lawyers in Calgary and Canada.  

Violet King an inspiration 

“I was reading a profile on Violet King, who was born and raised in Calgary, went to Crescent Heights High School, was the first Black woman to graduate from law school in Alberta, and the first Canadian female Black lawyer. I went to the same high school as her, and I had never heard of her before.” 

As a 14- or 15-year-old girl, it would have meant the world to me to have learned about someone so inspirational. Now, I want girls that age to see me as a lawyer and think ‘I want to do that, too.’

Senait Yohannes

Senait Yohannes' ultimate career goal is to work for the United Nations.

Find more Black History Month events and stories from UCalgary.  

Black History Month is a time to learn more about the Canadian stories and the many other important contributions of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, and about the diversity of Black communities in Canada and their importance to the history of this country.