Emerson alumna Dana Morgan’s dreams didn’t always focus on a courtroom. Instead, she dreamed of a crown. Although she recently formed her own law firm centered on issues related to immigration, Morgan grew up idolizing beauty pageant contestants and hoping to be one. During her senior year of college, Morgan achieved her goal and became the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts in the Miss USA pageant. At the time, Miss USA was owned by Donald Trump. Now Morgan, who graduated in 2001 with a degree in broadcast journalism, is launching her firm amid and in response to public outcry over President Trump’s executive orders restricting some immigrants from entering the country.
This week, the Beacon caught up with Morgan to talk about her past as a beauty queen and her present work as an immigration lawyer.
Berkeley Beacon: Why were you initially drawn to competing in pageants?
Dana Morgan: Growing up in Brooklyn, I watched pageants with my mom and my grandmother and I just dreamed of wearing a crown and competing one day. I looked up to the women. I just thought it was the most glamorous thing.
BB: What was the Miss USA experience like for you?
DM: It was eye-opening. I’m glad that I did it because I think you can learn from any experience. At the time it was an achievement because it was something I had been dreaming about since I was a little girl. But I think it was definitely eye-opening in the sense that I learned that there’s more to what we see on TV. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make a show and a production on that level happen.
BB: You were the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts in the Miss USA pageant. Did you know that before the competition and did that change anything for you?
DM: I honestly don’t really remember if I knew that going into the competition, but eventually I found out and I don’t think it changed anything before I entered the pageant. I went in just wanting to compete and to win.
BB: Did competing in these pageants growing up affect you in a positive or negative way? Did they teach you anything?
DM: I believe that everyone is free to choose what they want to do in life, obviously, and how they want to enjoy their lives and express themselves. But for me, however, I learned that personally there was a better way for me to use my talents that doesn’t emphasize the outward appearance and looking a particular way or being a particular size and being judged. As I’ve grown and become older and more mature, I believe that character and what is inside someone’s heart is far more important.
BB: Why did you decide to get your law degree and become a lawyer?
DM: I wanted to help people. Initially I thought I mainly wanted to use my degree to help battered women, and I’m still able to do that sometimes as an immigration attorney, thankfully. I saw the profession as an excellent opportunity to help people who were facing a variety of crises.
BB: Where and when did the idea to create your own firm centered on immigration issues arise?
DM: I would say late 2016. I had been searching for direction in terms of my profession, and long story short, the idea came to me after I started to think about my life as a first generation American born to parents who immigrated from Jamaica.
Also my paternal grandfather passed away. He was the patriarch of my family and was also an immigrant. I thought about his story I just thought, “Wow, what a wonderful way to honor my family, my parents, my grandparents, and their history and hard work.” So now I’m helping others to live and dream in the United States.
BB: Since issues of immigration have been in the news a lot recently, has this affected the work that you’re doing?
DM: Oh, yes. People are definitely seeking out immigration counsel and advice like never before. And I guess it’s because of President Trump’s executive orders. So people are desperately seeking clarification and are trying to figure out how this new administration’s policies are going to affect them.
BB: Why do you think this work is important?
DM: Well there’s a lot that can be said, obviously. The political climate right now makes this important work. There are a lot of people who are afraid. They’re afraid because sometimes they just don’t have the necessary knowledge and information. It’s wonderful to be able to answer their questions and perhaps quell their fears … It’s also important because if it weren’t for immigration laws my family would not have been able to come here and life would be very very different than it is now. I just believe that people not born in the US should be able to take hold of the many opportunities afforded to them and live the so-called American Dream, if they so choose.