When I was young, I was in constant contact with two lawyers: my mother and father.
My mother, a professor at a historically black college in North Carolina, had been a teacher most of her life. She was held in high esteem, but the law called to her, so she earned her JD from the night law school at Howard University, where she met my father. When they finished school, they married and returned to his home in Arkansas where he set up his practice as a civil rights lawyer. He had a dream of organizing black people to fight for their civil rights, and she was all for that. Becoming a lawyer was not among my aspirations. I knew that I wanted there to be more black students on campus at the University of Colorado Boulder, where I attended for my undergraduate studies, and more opportunities for black people in the United States. I knew about demonstrations in the streets, in the South, and on college campuses. I participated in all of those and they gave me a great feeling because I was involved in striving for an ideal.
My parents supported me in all of that, despite their concern for my safety. They were lawyers, and frankly, while I knew how respected they were, I still had no idea of exactly why or what they did. I also knew that at the end of all of those demonstrations, when people like me were in jail, somebody called a lawyer. The lawyers came and we were released, and we kept on demonstrating.
Then one day, a year before I graduated, a thoughtful CU professor asked what I was going to do after I got my degree. She suggested to me the process of elimination: look at careers and eliminate those that were not appealing.
She suggested that of those careers I hadn’t eliminated, I might consider law. Well, I knew two lawyers. But I didn’t know what they did, what they knew, or how they used what they knew to do what they did. She sent me to meet a law professor, who told my roommate and me what we needed to do to go to law school. We were both admitted to the University of Colorado Law School, where, admittedly, I remained more interested in the civil rights movement than academia. But Colorado Law accommodated that, and ultimately, after severe growing pains and that dastardly thing called maturity kicked in, I graduated.
I had met many classmates, most of whom were quite different from me. Few of them looked like me, and even fewer thought like me. But enough did. And enough wanted to know me and let me get to know them. Thank goodness—I still know them, depend on them, and respect them. Even the professors let me know them, and made the effort to know me.
Although I could never claim to be a civil rights lawyer, I still care about civil rights and want to see more black students on campus and in the halls of the Wolf Law Building. So I do what I can, and I’m proud to do it.
By giving a little here and a little there to the University Foundation and to the Colorado Law Dean’s Fund, talking to the dean, and directing some of my funds to increase the minority faculty and broaden the law student body, I think we help Colorado Law make progress.
What I’ve learned is that lawyers make an enormous difference in the world. When we give to these funds, we help the next generation and further the legacy of those students who mentored me, the faculty who gave of themselves and got to know me, and the institution itself that nurtured me (us) to become lawyers. It all adds up to a better community, state, and country. I continue to give and hope, and hope to help.
Colorado Law will continue to shape the next generation of lawyers and help them grow and mature, as long as we continue to help it grow stronger and better.