Published on February 15, 2024 by Morgan Black  
Tristan Gardner DR08072023265

This feature originally appeared in the fall 2023 edition of Samford University's Seasons magazine.

Prior to starting law school in August, Tristan Gardner was one of only 10 law students from across the nation selected for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Marshall-Motley Scholarship program. Named for Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice, and Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to become a federal judge, the program aims to equip the next generation of civil rights advocates.

"I believe we are made in the imago dei, and as Christians we have a duty to stand up to racial injustice. This scholarship aligns with my faith and encapsulates who I am as a person," Gardner said. The more Gardner learned about this program, the more he realized how well it aligns with his upbringing and his hopes for his future career.

"I have a desire to see a more equitable America and I have a heart for people, especially the underserved," he said. "There was no scholarship that I found that was more perfect for me. Through the application process, I was interviewed by Justice Marshall's granddaughter, Cecelia Marshall, which was an incredible experience."

Among many benefits of the program, Gardner received a full tuition scholarship, will be eligible for summer internship opportunities with national and regional civil rights organizations, a two-year postgraduate fellowship at civil rights law organizations in the South, and access to special Legal Defense Fund trainings.

Gardner is Cumberland School of Law's second consecutive Marshall-Motley Scholar in the program's three-year history, following Malik Moore who was selected in the 2022 cohort.

He believes this exemplifies Cumberland's culture and values. "The school's desire to see a more diverse student body--not only in skin color, but in thoughts and ideals--is something I'm proud to be a part of. I know I will be prepared to pursue my passion after I graduate. I've made the right choice," he said. Gardner credits his family for instilling in him his beliefs and fostering his passion. After graduating, he plans on staying in the South to continue to pursue racial justice, particularly in the areas of civil rights litigation, nonprofit, criminal defense, juvenile justice and family law.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.