“Meaningful exploration” is the phrase Kinara Flagg ’02 uses to describe the path she has taken to discovering her life’s work in service of others. As a lawyer with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement section, Kinara works to remedy the injustices people have faced at the hand of landlords, predatory lenders, and others. Yet that path Kinara was one rife with twists and turns, all of which she took in stride on the way to a rewarding and personally fulfilling career.
After living in France for a portion of her childhood, Kinara began attending Ross School in the sixth grade, where she joined a class of only nine students. Kinara made the most of her time at Ross, welcoming the academic challenges the school provided and taking advantage of chances to explore her talents through extracurricular activities. In the classroom, she benefited from independent studies that allowed her to continue cultivating her French skills, and she counts among her fondest memories studying French literature with former instructor Richard Dunn. Throughout middle and high school, she was also an avid athlete: an award-winning field hockey goalie who also dabbled in basketball, tennis, and swimming. Kinara also found time to participate in the theater program and played cello in the school orchestra. She was one of a selected group of students to participate in Sonic Convergence Millennium Triad, a project in which selected high school students from the United States, Sweden, and China collaborated on a single musical composition, mentored by professional artists.
“Sending me to Ross was the best thing my parents could have done for me academically,” she said.
During these formative years, Kinara determined that she wanted to work in service, helping to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots. “Eastern Long Island is an interesting microcosm. You can see the full range of socioeconomic classes,” Kinara said. “The more I traveled and the more aware I became, the more curious I was about how these classes exist and how people overcome [the divide].”
Despite planning for a career in international aid, Kinara’s first postcollegiate job, as a development associate for a New York City–based nonprofit that specialized in supporting the homeless, exposed her to the realities of domestic poverty. Helping to run programming at five family shelters and writing grant applications for much-needed resources like after-school programs were purposeful, but Kinara felt that she could do more. “Every little step, even if it helped an individual, never seemed like enough,” she said. Pursuing a career in law offered the possibility of helping on a greater scale.
Just as she had at Ross, Kinara made the most of her time at Columbia Law School. In addition to serving as the editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Kinara worked with disenfranchised populations, offering pro bono legal support to immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and helping inmates at Rikers Island jail complex navigate child custody issues.
As a trial lawyer, Kinara argues cases involving discriminatory housing, unfair lending practices, discrimination in places of entertainment and public accommodation, and religious discrimination in land use, specifically against people and organizations that have shown sustained patterns of discrimination, all over the country. “The cases are big enough that you really feel like you are making a difference,” she said. “One of the most amazing things is when you settle a case and you end up being able to call a victim of discrimination and tell them the good news.”
Kinara’s team recently settled a lawsuit against two St. Louis landlords accused of sexually harassing 15 female tenants over the course of two decades. Under the settlement, the landlords avoided trial, agreeing to pay the victims $600,000 in monetary damages. Additionally, the landlords will pay a fine of $25,000 to the government and are banned from serving as property managers in the future.
Kinara lives the Ross School motto, “know thyself in order to serve,” daily. “It’s something that has grown in meaning over time,” she said. “Getting to know myself better, and reflecting on my strengths and what I need to work on, has helped me to figure out how to be the best version of myself to serve those around me.”
For those preparing for graduation, Kinara offers the following advice, which she learned from her years of “meaningful exploration”: listen to and learn from the stories of others, and be open-minded in your goals for the future. “We tend to think there’s only one path to success,” Kinara said. “Oftentimes, it’s what you haven’t planned for that opens up new paths."