May 14, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 9
Back Issues
‘Our Students Lead Us’
Sullivan Award-winners
Part of the fabric of University life
Curiosity drives Mitman’s pursuits
‘Reverend Nurse:’
At 52, Valley minister feels call to care for the whole person, spiritually and physically
Leap of a lifetime:
Athlete Kim Turko jumps a formidable hurdle — life-threatening illness
He’ll be back:
Adult education graduate studies adult education
‘Hungry to Help:’
Student refugee wants to improve the lives of Burma’s forgotten children
Revitalizing Main Street:
Jill Nolt’s plan for her hometown high school makes front-page news
Peace Corps bound:
Business major trades fast lane for slow pace on Tonga
First in her family:
Angela Caldwell, a Native American, overcomes community attitudes to become lawyer
From Crane’s love of the cosmos comes new era for stargazers
A history of Finals
Sharlotte Bolyard is flying high
A ministry of medicine

Bombay bound:
Darden grad to apply best U.S. business practices to family company in India

Peer educator looks beyond educating:
Health advocacy is next step for Alyssa Lederer

No ‘cookie-cutter’ solutions:
Family expert Charmaine Yoest says creativity, flexibility are keys to resolving work/family issues

Reflections on the road to enlightenment:
Thirteen years, one class at a time, but who was counting?

‘Connecting communities:’
Presentation on African-American history at U.Va. gets students thinking, talking
First in her family
Angela Caldwell, a Native American, overcomes community attitudes to become a lawyer
Angela Caldwell
Photo by Tom Cogill
Angela Caldwell believes her law degree will enable her to one day help members of her Lumbee tribe in North Carolina.

By Matt Kelly

Angela Caldwell earned a law degree because people said she could not.

Caldwell, 26, mother of three and a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe, rose above poverty and a community riddled with self-destructive behavior and defeatism to be the first in her family to finish college and go to law school. The daughter of a career military man, Caldwell grew up in many places, spending the longest time in North Carolina, where her family originated.

“I could have had any drug I wanted,” she said of her youth. “But I chose not to, because I wanted so much more for myself.”

Apart from drugs, Caldwell had to overcome community attitudes about women.

“Women are expected to clean up after men and to take care of the kids, and that is their job,” she said. “On any given Sunday, if the men come to my mother’s house to eat, they all sit down at the table and wait for their wives and the women to fix their plates. I hated that. It drove me crazy because I felt like my mind was just as strong as any man’s that was there. I always felt I had to prove myself to be something more.”

Since she was smart in school, Caldwell’s parents encouraged her to consider college, an option for few in her community.

But “it’s hard to escape circumstances,” Caldwell said. By the time she was 17, she was married and pregnant. Since her parents did not approve of her marriage initially, Caldwell did not get support from her family at the time.

“People told me, ‘You’ll never be anything. You’ll never graduate from college. You’ve taken all that brain power and wasted it,’” Caldwell said. “So with me and my husband, with everything working against us, we have always fought to be better, to be more than they said we could be.”

As a step in that direction, Caldwell earned a high school equivalency degree, and enrolled in Columbus State University in Georgia. At the time, she was caring for a 1-year-old child and pregnant with her second.

She finished her political science degree, with a minor in legal reasoning, in El Paso, Texas, in 2001.

While Caldwell had started out to be a nurse, she realized her talents were with the law. “The more law classes I took, the more I realized this is something I love,” she said. “The only thing I want to do is be in a court room somewhere, arguing with somebody about something.”
She sees the law as something than can help her tribe and can be used to assist people in making day-to-day decisions.

“I love reasoning and researching and finding answers,” she said. “When you come with a theory of who is responsible, or the theory you’re going to sue under, you have to be able to support it. I love getting to that point and finding novel ways of getting around things.”
Caldwell is very good with details, said Daniel R. Ortiz, the John Allan Love Professor of Law, who taught her civil procedure. “She has both feet on the ground and is steady, but buoyant,” Ortiz said. “She has a quick eye for detail, which is very helpful. There are times that, if you can’t master the detail, you’re swallowed up.”

U.Va. was a good fit for her.

“I came to U.Va. because I thought it offered all the things I was looking for in a school,” she said. “I was looking for a place that was a good place to have kids, a collegial atmosphere, that was friendly and supportive.”

Caldwell had her youngest, Macailah, now 16 months old, while a law student. She did not take time off from school and found the Law School to be very supportive.

“I’ve been able to bring my kids to any class I’ve needed to with no problem,” she said. “I’ve always felt my family was welcome so I didn’t have to exclude myself [from any activity].”

“Angela has indeed set the standard for effective multi-tasking,” said Beverly P. Harmon, assistant dean of student affairs at the Law School. “She takes parenting seriously and is often accompanied by her three children, [who] are very much a part of our community.”

Active in the Law School, Caldwell has provided pro bono legal work and played softball. She is a member of the Law Christian Fellowship, a senior editorial board member for the Journal on Social Policy and the Law, and a chairwoman for Virginia Law Families.

After walking the Lawn, Caldwell and her family will move to Richmond, where she will start a pro bono fellowship with the law firm of Hunton & Williams, and her husband will take his turn at going to school.

While she would love to do legal aid work “forever,” she needs to practice law at a private firm to support her family. Longer term, however, she dreams of becoming a U.S. senator from North Carolina — a position she believes would best enable her to help her tribe.


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