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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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