Fluffy Kilburn grew up in south St. Louis watching her uncle practice civil and criminal law, going to NAACP events with him and witnessing his kindness towards people who could not afford to pay him for his services. No wonder she decided to pursue a career in law.
“I grew up understanding that attorneys are defenders of their fellow citizens, and [their] protectors,” she said. “When Mike Brown was [killed in Ferguson], I remember where I was and what I was doing, and I remember the candlelight vigil that led to the fights between the people and the police. There were a lot of things culminating in understanding, and I always knew I wanted to pursue law and effect change.”
Kilburn graduated in May from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. In March, she accepted a position with a construction company in the Dallas, Texas, area.
While that work might not seem to align with her original motivation to practice law, Kilburn said she wants to gain experience in the private sector before shifting into public law and policy.
“I honestly want to go into policy; I would love to be in the House [of Representatives]. But I have plans . . . to be able to fund that myself because I don’t want to be reliant on private donations,” she said. “I’m going to begin with an end in mind.”
Kilburn has launched her legal career by amassing an impressive resume of internships with U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes and the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and leadership roles with the Black Law Students Association and other organizations at UMKC Law.
In particular, though, she is proud of the time she spent working as a capital resource counsel intern for The Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project during the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters.
In that role, she visited capital defense clients, composed research memos for the team and assisted with a motion to be argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, aiming to exempt the severely mentally ill from the death penalty.
“It was really trying work, it was daunting at times and the team dynamic was really intense because the stakes were as high as they could be,” Kilburn said. “But the time I spent with clients on death row, the time I just got to sit with them, spending several hours talking and hanging out — they’re just really resilient and really inspiring people, and it was a good recalibration and reminder of why this is really important.”
Two years ago, Kilburn and a friend founded a nonprofit organization with the goal of feeding children at a Kansas City charter school that had no kitchen and was unable to provide food for students who qualified for free and reduced breakfasts and lunches.
They secured a generous donation from a local bakery, which provided enough protein bars to feed the students for a year. Kilburn said she would love to expand the program, and she believes there is potential to bring the program to Columbia through the University of Missouri system.
“Myself and another friend felt compelled to do something because in my world — the legal world — there is an abundance of resources,” she said. “I think about the happy hours I attend — they are sponsored by the schools and bar associations, and it’s all in excess. We just have more than we need.”