I am proud and excited to begin this year as the 95th President of the Broward County Bar Association. Upon being sworn into office, I will become the organization’s first Jamaican-American president and its third Black president. As president, I intend to continue and improve upon the initiatives which have kept us relevant to our members in this challenging virtual environment. In addition to my service to the Bar, I am a father, a husband, a son, a friend, an immigrant and a citizen of Broward County and these United States. I am also a lawyer—sworn by oath to protect our Constitution and obligated by a shared humanity to preserve certain fundamental truths—that as human beings we are all created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, almost 250 years after the Boston Tea Party, and 55 years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, we are still grappling with the painful reality that despite our shared humanity, we are not all treated equal. The ugly truth is that despite how far we have come as a society there are many who refuse, or who are unable to acknowledge that our social, economic and moral progress has been crippled by the shackles of our country’s long history of slavery, prejudice, bias and intolerance. Today, once again, we are being confronted by the remnants of our unresolved past.
But through the dark clouds of inequality, intolerance and bias, there shines a ray of hope. In the wake of several recent killings of black men and women, abuses of police power and other incidents of prejudice and violence—some captured on video and thrust before the world in a manner too glaring to ignore—we have seen a redoubled global commitment to racial justice, equality and tolerance. We have all been forced to question our own humanity and the humanity of our neighbors, as many of us found ourselves silent for far too long and therefore (indirectly) complicit in these deaths and other atrocities. In the last three weeks, we have seen an almost viral awakening to the fundamental truth that if we deny the humanity of any one of us, we deny the humanity of all of us. In response, we have seen protesters—ordinary citizens—take to the streets to say “enough!” We have seen mothers with their sons, fathers with their daughters, protesters arm-in-arm with law enforcement—a tidal wave of black, white, brown, young, old, male and female—all marching towards a common goal. During a global pandemic, we have witnessed strangers celebrating their shared humanity, leading to an increase in empathy and, maybe, the eventual promise of true equality.
So, what can we do?
We can facilitate and lead constructive, civil, meaningful dialogue to effect change. Dialogue between law enforcement and civilians, between the legislature and the voters, between the courts and the lawyers and amongst all races and ethnicities. We can lead dialogue free of politics or prejudice but filled with diverse perspectives and restrained only by truth. Only then can we tackle—honestly—much needed reforms as a community. We can lead dialogue about reforms to our criminal justice system that has for decades meted out justice with a bum scale. We can lead dialogue about reforms to our social and economic infrastructure that continues to perpetuate a permanent underclass of black and brown communities that are too accustomed to being “last in and first out.” We can lead dialogue about gender, or sexual orientation, or about a healthcare system that disproportionately seems to exclude the very minority communities who need it most. We can lead dialogue about our role as stewards of the third branch of government and whether we have risen to the task of acting as a check and balance to the other two branches.
I know that at this point, many of you are wondering if I have forgotten that we are just a bar association—a voluntary bar at that! It is true that we are not the ACLU, nor are we the ADL. But we are lawyers—citizens who, in exchange for the privilege of admission to this honorable profession, have sworn an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States and “… to never reject, from any consideration personal to [ourselves], the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.…” So, I ask you, if not our Bar, then who and if not now, then when?
In just the first half of 2020, we have faced two invisible but deadly challenges. But rather than divide us, the shared pain, tragic loss of life and almost paralyzing economic uncertainty have brought us closer than we have ever been to a chance for real, meaningful change.
We must be steadfast, clear-eyed and resolute about the immediate need for positive change. We must be better and we must do better. I invite each of you to start a real conversation with someone new, someone different, someone who does not think or look like you. I invite you to attend a webinar, organize a panel discussion, or submit an idea for a speaker or a topic. I invite you to listen.
Together, as one Bar, almost 4,000 strong, we can make a difference. Let’s talk!