Long before bp, what motivated you to pursue a career in law?
I was motivated by the life and work of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Justice Marshall’s legal career was focused almost entirely on ending racial segregation and litigating cases on behalf of those marginalized by society. Inspired by Justice Marshall, I became a lawyer, in part, to lend my voice to those who were unable to speak for themselves.
While my legal career has not gone as I had envisioned, as I’m not directly engaged in civil rights legal matters, I remain passionate about helping to create a more just and equitable society for everyone, especially for our youth and those in under-represented communities.
During your career, how have you responded to the challenges that you’ve faced as an African American male?
As a minority, there have been times, especially early in my career, where I’ve felt ostracized, isolated, disrespected and discriminated against because of my race. Where the mistreatment was obvious against me or someone else, I’ve shown the courage to speak against it. It’s been a learning experience for me and I haven’t always gotten it right. However, I’ve always tried to rise above those challenges and not be led by my feelings with a focus on living by the golden rule of treating everyone the way that I want to be treated.I’ve also sought to challenge and broaden my perspective by acknowledging that my views/feelings about race could be biased by my own background. I’ve also sought to engage in constructive dialogue about areas of differences, as I firmly believe that open communication is key to overcoming these challenges. Ultimately, I always want to be inclusive and thoughtful in my responses to others, with the goal where possible to unify and not divide.
What does this recognition mean to you?
While this award recognizes my career as a lawyer, I see it as representing the progress that the African American community and our country have made not just in law, but in other areas by providing opportunities to everyone regardless of their background. While we still have lots of work to do, my career and the careers of so many other ethnic minorities, are evidence that we’re headed in the right direction.
In a recent Yammer post, you mentioned that your success was only possible because of those who have gone before you – can you tell us a little more about that?
When I talk about my success, I never think about it as my own, because it’s built off the foundation that those who have gone before me have laid. I mentioned my grandmother, a very wise woman, a housekeeper for most of her life, Jestene Crawford. And then we have those legends more well known in the Civil Rights Movement and in business and sports. But I also think of those lives who have equally contributed to my success, maybe not by purposeful intent, but who still have been instrumental in opening doors of opportunity – the unknown faces from 1950 and 1960 marches, as well as the recent deaths of Ahmaud, George and Breonna which led to renewed and productive dialogue about race and equality in this country.
As I said in the post, “The changes in this country have come from the hardships, losses and sacrifices of the collective, rather than a small group of visible leaders.”
In what ways can we be allies to each other?
Consistently challenge yourself and each other in a respectful manner. Be open to other perspectives, not just by saying you are, but by asking for other opinions/experiences and allowing colleagues and friends to share openly.
Let’s leave the judgement at the front door – go into conversations with a genuinely open mind. Admit when you may not know what others’ experiences have been, share your experiences and enable a dialogue.
There are many sayings about not knowing what battles others are facing, even if they’re smiling. Remind yourself of this as you interact with others – what they show you may only be part of the picture. Their experiences may have been hugely different to yours and therefore it’s important that we’re reflective and thoughtful during our interactions with others.
Lastly, educate yourself about an area of difference. There are lots of good books, movies, television series, etc., on a host of topics. As you learn more about a culture, you’ll start to value the difference, understand more about their unique challenges and be in a much better position to provide support.