For almost two years, we have been planning the DBA’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. We are excited to welcome Nina Totenberg as our speaker at noon on August 26, 2020! She will be interviewed by Judge Tonya Parker.
Ms. Totenberg is an award-winning legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio whose reports are heard on All Things Considered and Morning Edition. She has won every major journalism award in broadcasting and is the only radio journalist to have won the National Press Foundation award for Broadcaster of the Year. The focus of the program will be the history of the suffragette movement, what we have accomplished in gender diversity in the last 100 years, and where we go from here.
In planning my columns for this year, I knew the August column would focus on this event. But with recent events—including with the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day—I concluded this column must be broader, and address not only gender equality, but the continuing havoc that systemic racism wreaks upon our country and our efforts to build a better society.
At the outset, I must confess my own ignorance of this issue for much of my life. Growing up in Preston Hollow, I led a sheltered life. In grade school, I watched with growing interest the work of Dr. King, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and anti-war activists, and events like Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the Army, the “summer of love” in San Francisco, the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, the turmoil of the summer of 1968, the election of Richard Nixon, and Woodstock.
But these events really did not give me any insight into what it meant to be Black in America during the 1960s and 1970s. My only real experience with the African American community was when desegregation orders led to mandatory busing of students to Hillcrest High School. Generally, the kids who rode the buses did not want to be bused, and the Hillcrest kids did not accept the new students. Indeed, the desegregation efforts led to “white flight” from public schools.
From Hillcrest High School, I went to the University of Pennsylvania and then UT Law School—both of which were almost entirely white at the time. I started law practice in 1980, and the legal community was mostly white males, though white women finally were starting to enter the profession in greater numbers. Again, though, there were very few people of color in the profession at that time.
My increased involvement in DBA during the early 2000s probably was the first time in my life that I interacted with people of color in any meaningful way. As I got to know more people of color and hear their stories, I finally began to understand the disparity of opportunity in our country—that the minority pathway to “the American Dream” is far more arduous. For the first time in my life, I began to understand the reality of “white privilege.”
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I thought our nation finally had turned the corner on race. And though we made positive strides—including electing a race and gender diverse bench in Dallas County—my belief was flat wrong. The appearance of a “race-neutral” society was a mere facade.
While the death of George Floyd and others in recent years has had a visual impact on all of us that no one will ever forget, the underlying problem of systemic racism is much more pervasive and has a bigger impact on our society. For every George Floyd, there are millions of instances of systemic racism, such as the racial profiling that Evan Brown (Shonn and Clarence Brown’s son in high school) experienced at Sonic. For those of you who are not familiar with this incident, Evan was treated fine at Sonic so long as he went there with his white friends. On the one occasion where Evan went to Sonic with his black friends, the manager told the kids they had to leave and threatened to call the police. There is nothing isolated or unusual about this incident.
Until we successfully tackle systemic racism, no improvements in police departments designed to eradicate brutality will truly make this a better place for people to live.
After all of these years and missed opportunities, I finally get it! As a bar association, we need to dedicate ourselves to making our city, our county, and our state a better place to live—one where everyone has the meaningful opportunity to achieve the American Dream. I am not naïve enough to think that will be accomplished this year, next year, or 10 years from now. But if we never start, we never will get there. To paraphrase an old expression, even the longest journey begins with a single step.
The DBA and the Sister Bars formed the Allied Dallas Bars’ Equality Taskforce in June to help. The Equality Taskforce will not only battle racism but will promote programs and initiatives on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging issues. Already, the Equality Taskforce is supporting Project Unity’s Together We Can effort (www.TogetherWeCan.one). For those of you who have been to a “Together We Dine” event, you know the conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable, but they lead to greater understanding. The Together We Can program is designed in part to get people to have difficult conversations with others of opposing viewpoints and helps answer the question of “what can I do to make change.” Knowledge and understanding will go a long way in this fight.
In early July, we encouraged members to watch the movie Just Mercy, a film that tells the story of civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who successfully appealed the murder conviction of Johnny D. McMillan, who spent five years on Alabama’s death row for a murder he did not commit. On July 9, we had a great discussion about the movie with Judges Barbara Lynn, Ada Brown, and David Horan, Professor Cheryl Wattley, and Will Pryor. I hope it will be the first in a series.
The bottom line is that we have a long way to go to ensure that this country affords everyone an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. I want your suggestions about what we can do during the rest of 2020 and beyond to move the needle. If you want to help, we are eager to have you! With your help, we can and will make a difference!