Former mentee ShaMiracle J. Rankin pays it forward
Published in 2021 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine
on February 12, 2021
Updated on February 17, 2021
ShaMiracle J. Rankin chokes up as she read the note, and afterward she’s quiet as she collects herself. Sent by a mentee named Darienne, the note is one she keeps close to her office desk and closer to heart. “I look at it when I’m having rough days,” she says.
Rankin met Darienne through the Sister2Sister program, administered by the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys Foundation. Since 2011, Rankin has mentored five middle and high school students who were ordered to attend the yearlong diversion program by the Fulton or DeKalb County juvenile courts. She’s also served as program director of the DeKalb County branch. “I wanted to help mold the next generation of young ladies who came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds as me,” she says.
The group meets every other Saturday for two hours. “They’re pretty intense sessions that focus on the soft skills in life,” Rankin says. “Things that we take for granted—like etiquette or conflict-resolution skills—everyone doesn’t receive that in their household environment. … You can’t presume they know you can actually talk out a disagreement. Or if you’re having an issue in school—be it dyslexia or you just aren’t good in math—that you can actually talk to someone and receive help.”
Mentors and mentees are assigned to each other based on personalities and mutual interests. Initially, though, Darienne was paired with someone else; but she kept drifting toward Rankin. “She would tell everyone, ‘Miss Miracle is my mentor,’” Rankin remembers. “And I’m like, ‘Darienne, you have a mentor. I cannot be your mentor because you have one.’ And she just ignored us.”
At the time, Darienne was adrift in school, with a low GPA and a disinterest in academics. “She has a very outgoing, bubbly personality,” Rankin says. “She just didn’t have anyone to show her the why behind the importance of it all.”
That’s where Rankin came in. She asked direct questions: What did Darienne imagine life beyond high school looking like? Did she want to do the same thing as family members or something different? “We had to agree that, to do something different, you have to commit to being different,” Rankin says.
By the time Darienne graduated high school, her GPA had climbed to 3.0 and she was headed to Georgia State.
Rankin knows something of this trajectory because she experienced it herself. A good student, with an interest in the law, she didn’t know any lawyers. So through a church program, she found Angela Bird, a construction attorney. She got to visit her office, see what her day was like, ask questions. More, Bird took Rankin to the opera, to the Alvin Ailey ballet at the Fox Theatre, and to fancy restaurants. “I went to a high school that was socioeconomically disadvantaged,” Rankin says. “You didn’t really get many opportunities outside of Decatur, Georgia. And she took me all around the city of Atlanta—just showing different things that you could do once you entered into a professional realm.”
Darienne made the theater and restaurant rounds with Rankin, too. And when she became the beneficiary of the Atlanta Bar’s Summer Law Internship Program, Rankin helped her pick out clothes. She remembers “the pure excitement and joy in her face, like, ‘Oh, I look like a professional.’”
Now a senior at Georgia State, Darienne continues to prosper despite the educational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, she sometimes finds a stronger connection with her professors online than she did as a face in the crowd in the college’s huge lecture halls.
Graduation is scheduled for May. Will Rankin be there?
“With bells on,” she says.
Dear Ms. ShaMiracle Johnson,
As you may know, I am a first-time intern at the Atlanta Bar Association’s SLIP program. You wrote one of my recommendation letters, and let’s just say you are the best mentor I’ve ever had. I am very blessed and appreciative to have a woman like you helping shape my life into a trophy of success. There is never a doubt whether you’re going to hear me out. If I needed anything, you were there to make sure everything was okay. You are a woman of excellence and a shoulder to lean on. Ms. ShaMiracle Johnson, you are the person I admire the most.