In remembrance of the 50th anniversary of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, BLSA hosted a candid discussion with the President of the National Bar Association, Juan Thomas. After being introduced by Professor Donald Harris, Thomas connected King’s life and legacy to the importance and purpose of young black lawyers in modern day America. His speech tackled a question King himself asked decades ago, “Where do we go from here?”

Thomas warned against romanticizing the legacy of Dr. King. Despite his commitment to rectifying the racial and economic inequality that plagued America, King faced intense criticism from both anti and pro civil rights leaders. Thomas noted that this scrutiny seemed to be par for the course when it comes to “struggle and leadership.” Thomas also pointed to the current administration’s attempts to erase President Obama’s legacy as indicative of this phenomenon. In light of this and recent incidents of police brutality, Thomas believes that, “our nation is in a moment of crisis.”

The National Bar Association (NBA) has historically been aligned with Dr. King’s goal of moving the nation forward through encouraging civil rights. In fact, it was founded in direct response to the inability of black lawyers to join the American Bar Association. Continuing this work, the NBA has named their strategic plan for this year Protecting Our Progress by Building Our Future. Thomas mentioned some of their plans to achieve this, including creating a safe space for LGBT  lawyers in the NBA, using technology to advance the law profession and the African American community, and working to empower advocates at the state and local level who share their legislative goals and values.

Thomas concluded by imparting a wealth of advice to the future black lawyers in attendance. He drew attention to the need for wealthy African Americans to invest in underserved communities and the fact that young black lawyers are uniquely situated to do so. In conjunction with this, Thomas called for more financial literacy within the the African American community.  Additionally, he emphasized the importance of networking with one’s peers as “success is based on the strength and quality of your relationships.” In this same vein, he urged students to work together and choose productive arguments. Importantly, Thomas reminded the students that whenever they walk into a room, they must ask themselves: “Do I make an impact?”

~Amy Dean, Staff Writer