Young Professionals Spotlight: Olivia Castor
“The most challenging thing I have had to do in the name of pursuing my goals was learning to walk in the unknown”
1. Tell us about yourself:
My name is Olivia Castor and I am a 23-year-old Haitian American woman currently living in Boston, and I like to think of myself as a change-maker-in-training. I recently graduated from Harvard University in 2017. While I was there, I did a joint concentration in African American Studies and Social Studies (which is another way of saying political theory) with a focus on Black political thought and protests. Since graduating, I have worked as a Project Analyst at Mintz Levin, a national law firm based in Boston.
2. Why did you choose to study Social Studies?:
When I was a sophomore thinking about which concentration (major) to declare, Social Studies had a reputation for being an ultra-white department. Upperclassmen warned me to stay away because it was, at best, ignorant and, at worst, actively antagonistic to the contributions of black political theorists of color. The demanding intellectual atmosphere coupled with the theoretical whitewashing was just not worth it they said. However, I was intent on studying the theory behind concepts like “justice”, “equality”, “freedom”, and “citizenship”. I wanted to get a solid foundational understand of these concepts so that I could put them in conversation with what I already knew and was learning about black freedom struggles throughout our nation’s history. And, of course, Social Studies happened to be the best place to accomplish this. After a lot of thought and several conversations, I decided to just go for it. I entered the department my sophomore year with a promise to always challenge their definitions of a “political thinker” (read: white European/American man) and insert people of color into our conversations, and I graduated two years later with a Magna Cum Laude distinction in the department.
3. What was the most challenging obstacle you overcame to pursue your goals?
The most challenging thing I have had to do in the name of pursuing my goals was learning to walk in the unknown. What I mean by this is that I had to learn how to be comfortable with the fact that I had more questions than answers about what I want to be when I grow up and how I need to get there. I knew who I wanted to be (a change maker) and where I wanted my work to happen (in black and brown communities), but once it came to the finer details, I was lost. I did not know what industry I wanted to be in, what additional degree(s) to get, or what job(s) I would need to accomplish my goals. In other words, I had very few answers. My options were numerous, and while that is a blessing, I often found myself envying the singular clarity that my peers had when it came to their next steps. However, sometime during the fall of my senior year I realized that it is okay to not have the next two or ten years of your life perfectly mapped out, and that there is also something empowering about being able to say, “I don’t know what I want to do next.” It was not easy coming to this conclusion and becoming comfortable saying those words, but I know that at the end of the day, God will lead me where I need to go.
4. What are the biggest issues facing the legal industry in the coming years?
Honestly, I am not sure what the biggest issues in the legal industry will be in the coming years. This is partially because I am still new to the legal sphere, but mainly because the legal world is so multi-faceted. In the past six months, I have worked on game-changing issues related to intellectual property, biotechnology, corporate mergers, and healthcare. And that is only within the realm of a corporate law firm. If you take a step outside of the corporate law world, depending on where you land you may see that the “hot issues” are questions of jurisprudence, court reform, and sentencing laws, or immigration, consumer debt, and education reform. However, there are so many other issue areas out there that will see change in the upcoming years, and the role that a lawyer can play in these spaces is simultaneously evolving. Therefore, while I do not have a specific example of the next “hot topic” issues, I can confidently say that there will be some big legal changes, both positive and negative, in the upcoming years.
5. What does this generation need to do to help?
This question is a hard one for me because one thing that my experiences have taught me is that there is no “one way” to do good. Anyone can play a role in alleviating and/or eradicating some of the problems that exist in this world in the same way that anyone can cause harm. And although there is not an official policy on Doing Good, here are a couple of things that I think about when it comes to addressing a problem I am interested in:
· What is the problem?
· What existing work is being done to address this issue internationally? Nationally? Statewide? In that local community?
· What skill(s) can I contribute to addressing this issue?
· What role do I want to play?
· What is needed of me?
· How can I elevate and support the work that is already being done in this space?
Although this list is not exhaustive of all of the things you can ask yourself, I have found that asking myself these questions is an excellent way of orienting myself before diving into a new passion project.
6. What makes you feel the most confident about your future?
Whenever I begin to feel anxious about the path that I am taking, there are three things that reassure me:
1. The first is the random instances of encouragement and reassurance that I receive from strangers. I cannot count the number of times I have been shocked by the kind words or encouragement, praise, and faith in my abilities that people I have never met before have shared with me.
2. The second would be the dope, powerful, black mentors in my life. I am incredibly thankful for and humbled by the black women and men who regularly go out of their way to advocate on my behalf and pour a little bit of their wisdom into me. Mentorship is definitely something that I did not fully appreciate until I got to college, but these past few years have taught me just how life-changing it can be to have some amazing people rooting for your success.
3. Lastly, my faith in God acts as a regular source of comfort and reassurance in times of doubt. As I have stated before, I know that God will always guide me where I need to go.
7. What kind of impact will you like to have on the world?
When I think about what I want my legacy to be, having an international or national impact is not one of my requirements. In fact, at the moment there are only two things that I would like to accomplish with my life:
1. To do some form of good in black communities, and
2. To help black people learn more about their history
On doing good: While I know that I want my legacy to involve working and investing in black communities, I have intentionally left this part a bit vague, after all, there are several ways to do good. Although I have yet to narrow down my specific areas of interests when it comes to the black community, this space is my home/heart, so I know that above all else, I want my work to be concentrated there. I know that whatever I accomplish with my life—be it through policy, the law, or academia—will be an action done with the intention of adding some positive good to communities of color.
On learning one’s history: I think that history is important because we do not exist in a vacuum. Everything that we experience, do, and know is influenced by all of the things, people, and events that came before us. I personally think that our loves do not and cannot make sense until we know about our history because it is the key to understanding our present-day lives. In marginalized communities like the black community, understanding one’s history is paramount in order to make sense of exactly who you are and why you are treated as you are. Therefore, if I can play even the smallest role in helping someone learn more about their history, then I would count this part of my legacy as complete.