Jemar Daniel '07
When Jemar Daniel ’07 visited McDaniel as a basketball recruit, it wasn’t the court or the locker rooms he was excited by — it was the library. He was a Green Terror basketball player who took the “student” part of being a student-athlete very seriously. He was passionate about reading and was rarely seen without a book, which led to good-natured teasing from his friends and teammates.
It’s not surprising that Daniel found his way into entertainment law and is now vice president and senior counsel at ViacomCBS. He always loved music and sold mix tapes on campus his freshman year, with a dream of working in talent scouting and development at Def Jam Recordings. He earned a degree in History, but loved his classes in philosophy, political science and critical thinking.
“I eventually went to law school — I liked the idea of creating policy and frameworks that help guide society — but I still had hopes that at some point I would get into the music industry. I thought it was a pipe dream.” - Jemar Daniel ’07
When graduation came around, Daniel wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he took a year off to plan his next steps. “I eventually went to law school — I liked the idea of creating policy and frameworks that help guide society — but I still had hopes that at some point I would get into the music industry,” Daniel says. “I thought it was a pipe dream.”
Daniel realized one thing when he entered law school though: He had never met a lawyer who looked like him. Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood on Long Island, New York, that was predominantly African American, West Indian and West African, Daniel recalls that he saw representation in other professions including medicine and banking.
“Families did well for themselves — our parents worked in medicine and other respected fields, we were solidly middle class — but I never met a lawyer who looked like me until I got to law school,” he says. “As a black man, when I walk in a room, the last thing people want to or will think is that I’m a lawyer.”
He continued his academic career at American University’s Washington College of Law, and the summer after his first year, Daniel learned that a law degree could be his ticket to any number of dreams, regardless of personal circumstance.
Daniel scored a coveted clerkship with the Honorable Sterling Johnson Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in the Eastern District of New York, and it was the first time that he saw someone who looked like him “in a place where he wasn’t supposed to be,” Daniel says. “Judge Johnson never let it be an excuse that he was the only black male in his law school class. He still graduated first in his class in 1966.”
Judge Johnson also taught him that you can do anything with a law degree — “except practice medicine.” He was right. Daniel had been looking into commercial real estate law, but the next summer, he was offered an internship in the business and legal affairs (BALA) department at Black Entertainment Television (BET). What he always thought was a pipe dream was becoming reality — a reality that he’s been living for the better part of a decade.
“That summer was the first time I legitimately entertained the thought of being an entertainment lawyer, but if you asked people who knew me as a kid right through college, they’d say it makes perfect sense,” Daniel says. “I was dreading doing mergers and acquisitions and litigation, so I was fortunate to be doing something I loved from day one, working in a company that was part of my childhood.”
Career: Entertainment Lawyer