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Gary Mayor reminds MCBA of history, pushes action

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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 day that we took the oath to be an attorney.”

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 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. She 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 the MCBA members 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. IF the Right to Vote is indeed a Right, then it is a RIGHT. That is the same for ALL eligible and properly registered voters. And this is, being able to cast one's vote - until the minute before the polls close in one's assigned precinct. NOT days before by absentee ballot, and NOT 9 miles from one's house (where it might be a burden to get to in time). I personally wait until the last minute to get in line. Because you never know what happens. THAT is my right, and that is Mr. Valenti's. If it is truly so horrible to let him on school grounds (exactly how many children are harmed by those required to register, on school grounds, on election day - seriously!), then move the polling place to a different location. For ALL voters in that precinct. Problem solved.

  2. "associates are becoming more mercenary. The path to partnership has become longer and more difficult so they are chasing short-term gains like high compensation." GOOD FOR THEM! HELL THERE OUGHT TO BE A UNION!

  3. Let's be honest. A glut of lawyers out there, because law schools have overproduced them. Law schools dont care, and big law loves it. So the firms can afford to underpay them. Typical capitalist situation. Wages have grown slowly for entry level lawyers the past 25 years it seems. Just like the rest of our economy. Might as well become a welder. Oh and the big money is mostly reserved for those who can log huge hours and will cut corners to get things handled. More capitalist joy. So the answer coming from the experts is to "capitalize" more competition from nonlawyers, and robots. ie "expert systems." One even hears talk of "offshoring" some legal work. thus undercutting the workers even more. And they wonder why people have been pulling for Bernie and Trump. Hello fools, it's not just the "working class" it's the overly educated suffering too.

  4. And with a whimpering hissy fit the charade came to an end ... http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2016/07/27/all-charges-dropped-against-all-remaining-officers-in-freddie-gray-case/ WHISTLEBLOWERS are needed more than ever in a time such as this ... when politics trump justice and emotions trump reason. Blue Lives Matter.

  5. "pedigree"? I never knew that in order to become a successful or, for that matter, a talented attorney, one needs to have come from good stock. What should raise eyebrows even more than the starting associates' pay at this firm (and ones like it) is the belief systems they subscribe to re who is and isn't "fit" to practice law with them. Incredible the arrogance that exists throughout the practice of law in this country, especially at firms like this one.

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