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Gary mayor issues call to action for attorneys

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Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson implored members of the Marion County Bar Association to speak up because the gains made by previous generations of African-Americans are being rolled back.

“We need to speak up because people can’t hear us,” she said. “So I’ve come to challenge you tonight to speak up. And remind you that our mission to pursue freedom and justice in every arena is just as important today as it was 400 years ago when we got here or even on the day that we took the oath to be an attorney.”
 

mcba-15col.jpg Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was presented with an award after her address at the Kuykendall-Conn Awards Banquet. Pictured (from left): Judie Hawley Conley, Kuykendall-Conn program chair; TaKeena Thompson, Marion County Bar Association president; Freeman-Wilson; and Tara Melton, MCBA board chair. (Photo/Mike Washington)

Freeman-Wilson was the keynote speaker during the MCBA’s Kuykendall-Conn Awards Banquet Aug. 23. The event, which was attended by 150 people, was held in downtown Indianapolis.

In addition to remarks from the mayor of Gary, the association recognized a handful of members for outstanding service to the profession and the community.

Jimmie L. McMillian, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, was presented with the Appreciation of Service Award and Dennis E. Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development, was given the Community Service Award. Faegre Baker Daniels LLP was recognized with the Commitment to Diversity Award. The Justice, Fairness and Equality Award was presented posthumously to attorney and advocate Sandra Leek. Her sister, Cynthia Leek Cleveland, accepted the honor.

Included in the evening was the National Bar Association’s recognition of Hall of Fame inductee the late Clyde Williams, Jr.

Following Freeman-Wilson’s remarks, MCBA president TaKeena Thompson presented her with an award to commemorate the mayor’s commitment to justice, fairness and equality.

The dinner is named in honor of former Marion Superior Court Judge Rufus Kuykendall, one of the first African-Americans to be elected to the bench in Marion County, and attorney Harriette V. Bailey Conn, the first woman and first African-American to be appointed Public Defender of Indiana by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Freeman-Wilson credited the trailblazing efforts of people like Kuykendall and Conn with helping to open doors and enabling her to achieve. Freeman-Wilson was the first woman elected mayor of Gary and the first African-American female mayor in Indiana.

In a speech that blended humor, a sense of urgency and gentle admonishment, the Gary mayor told the association members they have a duty to heed the scripture that says to whom much is given, much shall be required. They have a responsibility to care for and advocate on behalf of people of color.

She talked about the outrage that followed the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and then questioned why that sentiment has not translated into action, especially in the African-American community.

“This isn’t the first time in the history of these United States that hatred, ignorance and outrageous conduct have been fueled…by race,” Freeman-Wilson said.

She then mused that maybe the inaction is caused by African-Americans forgetting the history of oppression and fear. Maybe the violence of the lynching tree and Bloody Sunday have slipped their minds.

“Or maybe,” she said, “we’ve been lulled to sleep by the progress created by the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act – oh, I forgot, they took that one away.”  

Members of the MCBA have to speak up because there are now new subtleties in unequal treatment that sometimes causes people to miss the issue, she said. As examples, she pointed to the expressway into the industrial prison complex and the debilitating affect of public housing.

More than speak up, Freeman-Wilson said they have to convey sentiment into action.

She then encouraged her audience to commit to doing something every week to help young people and to use their gifts of advocacy to stand up for those unable to stand up for themselves.

“Every one of us in this room and, many of us who aren’t in this room, has a microphone,” Freeman-Wilson said. “You don’t have to be a lawyer to have a microphone. Sometimes it’s your legal training but other times it’s another area of training, expertise. Sometimes it’s our status in the community, our analytical ability. Very often it’s simply our fearlessness and our willingness to speak truth to power.”•

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  1. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  2. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  3. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  4. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

  5. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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