Following the killing of George Floyd, protest erupted throughout the United States and the world, demanding change and an end to police brutality. Sadly, Floyd’s murder was the only the latest in a series of unnecessary tragedies, captured on video, that revealed to the world why every parent with Black children, especially sons, has to have “The Talk.” Joseph K. West, partner and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer of Duane Morris, explained it in a widely covered Legal Intelligencer article as:
“It is that discussion wherein we inform our sons that even the most benign interactions could turn lethal in an instant, often at the hands of public servants charged with protecting and serving them. I usually give that talk to my teenage boys once per year. Unfortunately, I have had to deliver it four times in the last week, alone.”
In this unprecedented moment of reckoning and awakening, Duane Morris held a series of events and discussions on racial inequality and the systemic changes that are needed for a more just society in America.
In a firm wide event to honour Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, the acclaimed actor, director and producer Laurence Fishburne spoke about the much-heralded Juneteenth episode of his hit show, “`black•ish,” which he co-created, produces and co-stars in. Mr. West moderated the discussion, which featured highlights of culturally significant projects from Mr. Fishburne’s celebrated career, including #Free Rayshawn, Contagion, Slavery by Another Name, Akeelah and the Bee, Miss Evers’ Boys, Thurgood, Boyz n the Hood and School Daze.
Read Bloomberg Law’s coverage of the town hall.
The public protests in the summer of 2020 also forced the business world to examine its practices and find ways to address systemic racism and inequality in meaningful ways.
In the ABC News story “As Corporate America Faces Racial Reckoning, Here’s How Experts Say Change Can Be Made,” Mr. West said, “I’m cautiously optimistic that it is a tipping point… The lines have really been blurred between what you see playing out in the streets and what you see playing out in the corridors of power.”
Mr. West also noted that “Companies are concluding that they face heightened expectations from their customers and employees to respond to racial concerns in the moment,” in the Wall Street Journal article “Companies Make Big Pledges Toward Initiatives on Race.”
To continue the discussion in the legal industry, Mr. West created “Black Lawyers in America: A National Town Hall Series,” a webinar series co-sponsored by Duane Morris LLP, the American Bar Association, the Commercial Law Section of the National Bar Association, the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association, the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals and the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. With Mr. West as moderator, the sessions examined the struggle for change and racial equity in the legal profession from the past, present and future, with prominent speakers including Dennis Archer, Paulette Brown and Robert Grey, Jr., the three African American former presidents of the American Bar Association; Judy Perry Martinez, president, American Bar Association (2019-2020); John O. Gaidoo, assistant general counsel, Cummins Inc.; Michele Coleman Mayes, vice president, general counsel and secretary, The New York Public Library; Benjamin F. Wilson, chairman, Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.; Matthew A. Taylor, chairman and chief executive officer, Duane Morris LLP; Tiffany Harper, first deputy treasurer, chief of staff and general counsel, Office of the Treasurer, City of Chicago; Brandon Harrell, deputy general counsel, Los Angeles 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organising Committee; Karl Riley, clerk for the Hon. Johnnie B. Rawlinson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.; Stacey E. Plaskett, U.S. representative, U.S. Virgin Islands’ at-large Congressional District; and Wendell Edward Pierce, actor and activist.