2024 Open Door Fellows: Darius Alexander and April Franklin

In two short years, the Open Door Fellowship program of the North Carolina Bar Foundation has developed into a highly competitive and highly sought after opportunity for students completing their first year of law school in North Carolina.

The fellowship program provides the selected applicants with hands-on legal experience through paid summer internships designed to help “open doors” for “historically excluded or disadvantaged individuals and communities in North Carolina.”

Darius Alexander of the University of North Carolina School of Law and April Franklin from Elon University School of Law are this year’s Open Door Fellows. In addition to their internships, Darius and April will be special guests of the North Carolina Bar Association at the 2024 Annual Meeting in Charlotte.

Darius is a graduate of East Carolina University, where he majored in political science and philosophy. He will be working with Craige Jenkins Liipfert & Walker LLP in Winston-Salem under the guidance of attorney Rebecca Smitherman, who currently serves on the NCBA Board of Governors and NCBF Board of Directors.

April is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she earned master’s degrees in gerontology and business administration. She will be working with The Fresh Market in Greensboro under the guidance of attorney Gerald Walden, who previously served on the NCBA Board of Governors and NCBF Board of Directors.

You can learn more here about the NCBF Open Door Fund and Fellowship program, and stay tuned for exciting news about the Open Door Fund that will be reported in the August edition of North Carolina Lawyer.

To learn more about the 2024 Open Door Fellows, please continue reading:

Darius Alexander

Darius, a Black man with black hair and a beard, wears a white shirt, red tie and black jacket.In his application, Darius Alexander described the “open door” concept as an opportunity that will help him pursue his passion.

“It means I do not have to be a locksmith to access the opportunities behind closed doors or to rip doors off of their hinges. The concept of ‘open doors’ represents an invitation to an unparalleled opportunity to prove my worth and merit. I know that my ability to thrive in the profession goes far beyond my current economic and professional limitations, but trying to convince individuals of my capabilities sometimes feels like a hopeless endeavor.

“‘Open doors’ is symbolic of my ancestor’s wildest dreams. They present the opportunity to show that even though I come from a disadvantaged background, I have as much capability as anyone to make a substantial impact on the legal field. What ‘open doors’ means to the profession is even more significant because it creates the possibility to change the face of the legal profession from the inside out. It is known that diversity is limited in the legal field and that the concept of a lawyer often does not yield imagery of people of color. However, programs like this that promote diversity allow those seemingly overlooked by society to bring their skills and perspectives to the forefront while cultivating long-term professional relationships. The limited diversity in the legal profession is statistically evident. Still, the concept of ‘open doors’ helps mitigate the issues of diversity within the field by giving students like me a chance at an opportunity we have been so often denied.”

Now that he has been selected, Darius also realizes what an honor it is to be one of only four law students who have been chosen to participate in the program.

“It’s such an honor to be able to continue the tradition of this program and represent my law school in the second year of the program,” he said. “It is definitely powerful, and for me and the way I stand to develop in a program like this, it feels great.”


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Darius will learn a great deal about estate planning this summer working with Rebecca Smitherman, who is an N.C. State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Probate Law, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and an adjunct professor at Wake Forest University School of Law. He is also looking forward to learning about other practice areas that the firm handles.

“I will be working under a partner who specializes in estate planning, so it will be a great opportunity to work directly beneath her. The firm also has a wide array of practice areas, so I will be able to interact with and possibly do some work with the other partners as well. They have practice areas that include not only personal injury but also criminal law, which is really good.”

Do you have a particular practice area in mind that you would like to pursue after law school?

“Personally, I’m pretty open,” Darius said. “I would say as far as the areas that I’ve got an interest in, that definitely includes property law in general, so this is a great opportunity to work under somebody who works in that wheelhouse. And especially with estate planning, it’s very powerful work and that definitely interests me. Having the opportunity to appear in court, because I can see myself doing some litigation work as well, definitely appeals to what I see myself doing.”

Darius didn’t hesitate when asked what his reaction was to being selected.

“Honestly, I was jumping for joy! I went ahead and told all of my family. I was extremely excited, especially to be able to work with Rebecca. She knows a lot, and I have a lot to learn, so it is the perfect pairing for me. The moment I found out, I was ecstatic and very thankful as I was expressing those feelings to my family and friends.”

Darius concluded by expressing his appreciation to the members of the North Carolina Bar Association and supporters of the North Carolina Bar Foundation for making this unique opportunity possible.

“I feel both a sense of gratitude and I would say a sense of optimism that a program like this exists, because it provides a platform and foundation for students from underrepresented backgrounds in the rather vast legal community of North Carolina. It fills me with a sense of gratitude because I am going to be a part of it, and also optimism knowing that students are in great hands when programs like this exist that provide them such an unparalleled opportunity.

“I’m ready to get to work and cultivate what I hope to be some longstanding relationships and be a great example of what a candidate for a program like this looks like.”

April Franklin

April, a Black woman with long, curly brown hair, wears a black blouse, purple soft blazer and silver necklace.In her application, April Franklin envisions “open doors” and providing fair and equal access to opportunities for minorities in the legal field.

“According to the American Bar Associations 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession, ‘Only 5% of all lawyers are African American’ when African Americans account for 13.4% of the U.S. population. These numbers show that the legal profession has a very long way to go in creating an equitable, inclusive, and diverse landscape that is representative of the general public. I am interested in becoming a part of a new generation of attorneys and other legal professionals who are equipped to change these numbers, allowing us to serve as an inspiration for the generations to come.

“I believe that creating opportunities for exposure to the field of law at a younger age is one of the main ways to create this change. Partnering with high schools and elementary schools to provide programming that teaches the youth about careers in the field of law, I believe that starting outreach earlier in the pipeline and being intentional about it will help to make the legal field more diverse and lead to more ‘open doors’ in the legal field.”

Being the first Open Door Fellow from Elon only added to the excitement for her.

“It really does,” April said. “I’m just so honored to be in this position; honored is the best word I could use to describe it. I understand that you all had a great pool of applicants to choose from, so to be selected is just a great, great feeling.”

April will gain valuable experience working with Gerald Walden, who has held numerous roles over more than two decades with The Fresh Market, including the title of Group VP – General Counsel & Corporate Secretary that he currently holds. He was also the company’s first Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Head of Diversity.

“I’m excited to work with The Fresh Market and to learn from attorney Gerald Walden and his team, and to see what goes into working as a corporate attorney and a corporation like The Fresh Market.”

Carrying the “open door” process one step further, April believes the fellowship will also help open her eyes to limitless possibilities in the legal field.

“When I first started my law school journey, I was interested in elder law because I have a background working with senior adults and family caregivers. So, while that is still my passion, I am open to the doors that law school presents me.

“I found some course areas that have been really interesting to me. I am interested in contracts and business associations now, and so those are two classes that are really interesting to me. I am interested in learning more about those areas, even though elder law is still in the background because that is what made me want to come to law school.”

The impact of the Open Door Fellowship, as April stated in her application, is especially meaningful for her.

“This program would be particularly impactful for me because it would provide me with an opportunity that many double minorities (African American women) like myself do not often receive. This opportunity would help to lower some of the barriers to entry into the legal profession and allow me to learn from experts in the field of law.”

It is an opportunity for which April is especially grateful.

“I’m just very appreciative of the North Carolina Bar Foundation for even having the foresight to come up with a fellowship such as this. I think it opens the doors, it helps to level the playing field, and it creates access and opportunity for people who may not all the time have access to an opportunity to get legal experience such as this.

“I’m just very honored and thankful for it.”

Russell Rawlings is director of external affairs and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association.