"We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” - Paul Laurence Dunbar
The year was 1996; the Fugees, Metallica, and the Spice Girls ruled the radio and MTV, CDs were quite in fashion, Bill Clinton was seeking a second term, and most 80’s babies, today’s millennials, were entering their Middle School years. My family and I had just arrived into one of those ideal, safe, suburban neighborhoods where the schools were new, the grass was green, the homes were large, and the ills and challenges of urban Washington DC were miles away. As a 6th grader, I read ecstatically about historic luminaries like Justice Thurgood Marshall and, at the time, Four Star General Colin Powell (Later known as Secretary Powell). The American Dream seemed real, alive, and breathing for everyone living in Stafford, Virginia, including the African American community. One day my family and I arrived at our suburban oasis, to find the words “GO BACK TO AFRICA YOU FUCKIN N*GGERS” spray painted across our entire home.
Racism exists in this country and throughout the world, those are undeniable facts.
Needless to say, being a person of color in this country is challenging. And those challenges have been studied, documented, and recorded repeatedly only to prove time and time again that race and ethnicity are still major forces in American life. Forces that shape and impact the personal and professional experiences of diverse populations across the entire nation. Thus, it shouldn’t be a shock to see a profession that is older than our country’s inception, continue to struggle with the question of race and ethnicity.
I could give you a multitude of statistics and data that speak to the declining number of diverse male attorneys, and the unique challenges that attorneys of color continue to face in the profession. Whether it is admission into law school, passing the bar, paying student debt, finding a job, or keeping a job, barriers for entry into the profession and ultimate career success as an attorney look dramatically different for attorneys of color, particularly males.
We know what the numbers say, and they demonstrate the need for our profession to proactively support continued diversification of the legal profession not just because it’s the moral thing to do, but it is imperative for the profession to reflect the people it serves — a browning nation full of multiple ethnicities, races, and spoken languages. Which is why the Men of Color Project is so desperately needed.
For the past few decades, males of color, entering the profession have been on the decline. The decline in the legal profession is really only the tip of the iceberg when thinking about the century long systemic problems that uniquely impact males of color in this country. But the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division is shining a spotlight on this issue. Throughout the bar year, we intend to create a support network for men of color that are new to the profession to arm them with the tools that are necessary to navigate our profession for ultimate career success.
I hope you will all join in supporting this effort as we try to right the course for so many new attorneys so that our profession can serve the citizens of this great country.
This article appeared on the Men of Color Project website in November 2018.