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View of the Lawyers club from the quadrangle

Community Gathers—Virtually—for Michigan Law’s Third African American Alumni Reunion

By James Weir
March 30, 2021

Members of the Michigan Law community came together March 26–28 for the third African American Alumni Reunion, gathering in a dynamic virtual format that included the presentation of the Law School’s Distinguished Alumni Award, live discussion sessions, the Alden J. Butch Carpenter Scholarship Gala, and other critical conversations and events in support of Michigan Law’s Black students and alumni.

“Our Reunion participants brought the energy we needed to create an inclusive community experience for the virtual setting, and proves we made the right decision to pivot to a remote event when COVID postponed last year’s Reunion,” says Elizabeth Campbell, '78, who was an executive co-chair of the Reunion, along with Marty Dunn, '84, Michele Coleman Mayes, '74, and Khalilah Spencer, '01. “We hope the success of this weekend’s Reunion will provide momentum for record attendance for our next in-person Reunion.”

The modified virtual format involved nine pre-recorded panels—some of which are posted below—that were made available in advance of the weekend of virtual events. Those discussions were continued live with Q&A sessions, during which the panelists took questions from the audience and joined breakout rooms to delve deeper into issues such as voting rights, reparations, health and wellness, alternative careers in the law, and much more.

Curtis L. Mack, LLM ’73, a nationally recognized labor and employment attorney who is rarely seen without his beloved Michigan hat, was honored as the recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award in a ceremony that was originally scheduled for last year’s Reunion in Ann Arbor. David A. Breach Dean of Law Mark West and Michele Coleman Mayes gave remarks, and were joined by special guest U.S. Representative Lucy McBath of Georgia’s sixth congressional district, who spoke of Mack’s extensive mentorship and support of Atlanta-area advancement programs for young African Americans. Mack was instrumental in establishing Michigan Law’s African American Alumni Reunions, and is known as a tireless networker and advocate on behalf of the countless individuals he has mentored over the years.

“Curtis is a treasure that has been given to us,” Michele Coleman Mayes said, in part, during her remarks. “We are the witnesses, the ones who will pass down his passions, his legacy, to younger generations. Curtis has set standards for us to uphold, and this is now our job, our responsibility to deliver, because Curtis always delivers. Curtis’s commitment to and support of African American students, prospective and current, is palpable.”

Mack was among the founding donors of the Gabriel Hargo Scholarship Fund, named after the first African American to graduate from the Law School. In her remarks, Mayes issued a call for friends and fellow alumni to join her and fellow Reunion executive co-chair Elizabeth Campbell in making a gift to the scholarship in honor of Curtis Mack. You can read more about Mack’s life and career here.

Other Reunion events included a presentation by Clinical Professor of Law Dana Thompson, ’99, and Ellisen Turner, ’02, co-chairs of Michigan Law’s Advisory Board on Race and Racism, who gave an update on the Board’s progress, and confirmed that the group will continue to examine issues of racism and disparity in the Law Quad in an ongoing capacity, and will issue actionable recommendations as necessary. In a separate discussion session, Dean West shared information about life in the Quad during the pandemic, and provided an update related to his ongoing conversations with the Black Law Students Association that began during last summer’s nationwide racial justice protests. He also announced the formation of a new Institute for Racial Justice, Equality, and Democracy at the Law School to serve as a locus for scholarship, research, and intellectual life.

Planning for Michigan Law’s fourth African American Alumni Reunion is already underway, and it will be held in Ann Arbor when it is once again safe to gather in person. In the meantime, you can watch recorded programming from this year’s event, available below. 


Democracy Under Siege: Lawyers on the Front Line of Voting Rights

This discussion covers modern election law reforms in Michigan and other states. Panelists also discuss the importance of voting rights and election protection efforts during last year’s presidential election cycle. Featuring Alaina Beverly, ’01, University of Chicago; Ellen Katz, University of Michigan Law School; and Khalilah Spencer, ’02, Honigman (moderator).


Opening Up the Cabinet: Administrations That Look Like America

Broderick Johnson, ’83, shares an insider look at what it’s like to work within two presidential administrations in conversation with Osahon Okundaye, ’17. Johnson, former Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary under President Barack Obama, as well as former Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs in the Clinton administration, offers insights as to how the Obama cabinet came together and how they addressed concerns regarding representation at the highest levels of government.


Reparations: The Family Talks Seriously About the Who, What, When and How

For much of the 150 years since slavery was outlawed in the United States, there has been a recurring discussion of the need for reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans. This panel discusses the historical legacy supporting the need for reparations, possible implementation of reparations beyond the historical promise of “forty acres and a mule,” addresses common critiques and possible legal challenges, and reviews reparations initiatives proposed by several U.S. presidential candidates during the 2020 election season. Featuring Kim Forde-Mazrui, ’93, University of Virginia School of Law; Britney Littles, ’16, (moderator); and Julian Davis Mortenson, University of Michigan Law School.


Transactional Practitioners: The Unsung Heroes of Equity and Empowerment

Money, Power, Respect! The African American community has often defaulted to civil rights litigation, employment discrimination litigation, and lawsuit-based practices when seeking to advance equality and fair opportunity as members of the legal profession. Indeed, many of our most heralded civil rights heroes in the profession made their marks by successfully litigating landmark cases such as Brown vs. Board of Education. This panel discussion examines other avenues for advancing parity in opportunity and prosperity for the African American community, focusing on transactional attorneys and their work providing much-needed counsel to economic actors such as business owners, wealth generators, and money movers. Featuring David Baker Lewis, ’70, Lewis & Munday; Osahon Okundaye, ’17, Katten Muchin Rosenman; Dana Thompson, ’99, University of Michigan Law School; and Travis Townsend, ’03, Townsend & Lockett, LLC (moderator).


Demystifying the Corporate Board: Breaking Barriers to Invitation

This session explores the different trajectories that prepared the panelists for service on public boards, and discusses the many factors that contribute to being an effective board member. The topics include whether to use the services of a search firm, what strengths or areas of expertise to emphasize as a board candidate, and how to identify and evaluate a board. Featuring Sharon Barner, ’82, Cummins, Inc.; Marc Howze,’95, John Deere & Company; Michele Coleman Mayes, ’74, The New York Public Library (moderator); and Frederick Nance, ’78, Squire Patton Boggs.


Health and Wellness for Lawyers

Studying and practicing law can be extremely challenging—even more daunting than other comparable degrees and professions. Health and wellness is often an unappreciated topic of discussion for law students and lawyers alike. This panel discussion features Ronald Falls, ’05, Post Advisory Group, LLC (moderator); Molly Ranns, State Bar of Michigan; and Alexis Robertson, ’07, Foley & Lardner, LLP. Resources mentioned in the panel discussion can be found here.

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