Slam Poet and Scholar Adds Lawyer to His Repertoire

May 04, 2018
Que’Nique Mykte’ standing by a column, wearing a black suit, white shirt and gray tie

Photo by Eileen Barroso

As a slam poet and spoken word artist, Que’Nique Mykte’ Newbill knows how to tell a story. And he’s decided to do that through the language of law.

Newbill, who goes by Que (pronounced like the letter Q), is graduating from Columbia Law School in May, having received an NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren scholarship, which goes to law students who have the potential to be civil rights and public interest attorneys.

“I decided to pursue law for many reasons,” he said. “But more importantly, I know that my J.D. will enable me to leverage my legal training and knowledge to serve my community in so many ways.”

Newbill has already started. In his second year, he received the Law School’s Irell & Manella Prize for outstanding leadership and good citizenship. In his third, the members of Columbia’s Black Law Students Association voted Newbill the most likely to start a movement on social media. “The goal should always be to help move the needle forward in the right direction,” he said.

A native of Atlanta, Que was raised by his single mother in south Georgia. Newbill is the first in his family to go to college, majoring in political science and studying Arabic at Grinnell College in Iowa, where he also won slam poetry contests. After graduating in 2011, he worked at the University of Jordan for a semester that coincided with the Arab Spring. “It was really powerful. You knew you were witnessing an important part of history.”

From 2013 to 2015, he was an advisor to Fulbright students coming from the Middle East to study in the United States. He was a liaison between the Department of State, U.S. Embassy staff and representatives at U.S. universities “The students were among the most talented group that I have ever met. I’m still friends with a lot of them,” he said.

During the summer after his first year at the Law School, Newbill worked with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, where he participated in a clinic for about a dozen low-income individuals each week that provided legal advice on issues such as housing, discrimination, and small claims. “You truly realize how much work still has to be done,” he said.

And Newbill has done much to see that the advocacy work he’s sees in the world does get done. He has worked with the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which uses storytelling and artistic performances to raise audience awareness of issues such as immigration, criminal justice, civic engagement, and political participation.

In 2017 he spent an independent semester abroad studying civil rights laws and alternative dispute resolution at the University of Cape Town. He consults at the Ali Forney Center in Harlem, which serves homeless LGBT youth, developing a comprehensive mediation guide for their sites in New York City. And more recently he also has been a research assistant to Columbia Law School Professor Patricia Williams, a renowned expert on race, gender and the law.

After Commencement Newbill will turn his attention to a new and different job at a major law firm. Last summer, he worked at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, which offered him a position after he graduates.

“Being a lawyer means recognizing many public issues such as education do not always neatly fit within a litigation framework or adversarial context,” he said. “Law school has shown me the ways lawyers can be effective community leaders, mediators, and policy makers.”

—By Gary Shapiro