Statement by Nate Alder, NCBP President, regarding the tragic death of George Floyd and worldwide protests for justice
The National Conference of Bar Presidents stands ready to support you as you lead against injustice and as you seek to establish justice in your communities. We are in this together. As presidents for a year and leaders for a lifetime, we work together, not alone. This is our common cause.
This is a time for leaders to speak truth, to stand strong, and to get proximate with the deepest challenges of democratic society and the many individuals who are hurting and in peril. We can never forget George Floyd and how his life was wrongly taken, or his last words: “I can’t breathe.” Please join me in reading the joint statement from Minnesota Bar Associations.
In the Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." Indeed, we as humans have forever believed that the arc of our moral universe bends toward justice. It is what founded our democracy, and from which we have sought to improve it with each generation. It is what guides and inspires us today. Our profession is rooted in it. And as leaders, we are engaged in (and invite all to join in) this precious cause -- justice. We believe in and are governed by the rule of law. No one is above the law. Justice is paramount and fundamental. Accessing justice rests on all of us as members of the legal community. As leaders, each of us has an invaluable opportunity here, now and forevermore; we must do our part to bend our work, our efforts, our partnerships, our organizations and the very fiber of our lives toward justice.
I am mindful of the fact that this week marks 99 years since the Tulsa Race Riots where over 300 people were killed and their community utterly destroyed. Langston Hughes wrote “What Happens to a Dream Deferred” in 1951: "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore –- and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?"
I have been inspired by Fred Gray, a former Alabama State Bar President and past member of NCBP, who devoted his entire career to the cause of justice: desegregation and civil rights. He said “We have to realize racism is not going to go away by itself.” He went to law school to attack segregation, and in his first year of practice had his first civil rights case. He went on to represent Rosa Parks, the Reverend Dr. King, and many more. I recommend his book, Bus Ride For Justice. We were honored to have him speak at NCBP. I have also had the privilege of meeting Bryan Stevenson at conferences; he said that “the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” I also recommend his book, Just Mercy.
Not long ago, NCBP put on a tremendous plenary session as a follow-up to the tragic events in Ferguson. It focused on what bar organizations did in real time. Carl Smallwood, Past President of the Columbus Bar Association and Past President of NCBP, directed that discussion among panelists. It was inspiring to see how bar presidents, no matter the situation or the event, can lead organizations and causes during times of upheaval, crisis and recovery. If the cause is just, there is meaning, energy and purpose in the effort. Our communities look to lawyers for answers, leadership, courage and dedication. At the end of that plenary session, everyone in the room stood and applauded for a very long time. It was electric. It was our community -- NCBP at its best. I know the heart of bar leaders. We are committed to each other, to people, to respect, to humanity, to justice, to the rule of law, and to community. Diversity and inclusion in the profession is a hallmark of our work. But our individual and collective work is deeper and more profound than change within our own organizations or the profession. We must focus effort on individuals as well as entire segments of society who depend on our dedicated leadership and devotion. Ultimately we must have love for all. To be a lawyer is an honor and a privilege. To whom much is given, much is required. We are in thistogether. Unity is NCBP.
Please know we are here for you, even as you are there for the communities you serve. Thank you for all you do.
Be strong, be well. Remember the words of Dr. King: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." (August 28, 1963).