Essay Contest Winners Honored by the Grand Rapids School Board

Last evening, the Grand Rapids School Board honored the winners and honorable mention recipients in the 11th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., essay contest conducted by Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. Each of the winners read his or her essay to the School Board, and the honorable mention recipients were invited forward to receive their award. School Board President Dr. Tony Baker commented that the essays should be required reading for the insight the students shared. Below are some photos of the honored students in attendance last evening. To read the winning essay, click here. To see the Grand Prize winner, Twanyea Smith, read his essay at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Community Celebration, click here.

Three of the winners with their teach, Ms. Emily Holt, of Riverside Middle School.  The winners are (from left to right): Dayshawn Fields, 1st Runner Up; Kanyia Brown, 2nd Runner Up (tie); and, Twanyea Smith, Grand Prize Winner.  Not pictured: Niko Hinzmann, 2nd Runner Up (tie), from the Center for Economicology

Three of the winners with their teacher, Ms. Emily Holt, of Riverside Middle School. The winners are (from left to right): Dayshawn Fields, 1st Runner Up; Kanyia Brown, 2nd Runner Up (tie); and, Twanyea Smith, Grand Prize Winner. Not pictured: Niko Hinzmann, 2nd Runner Up (tie), from the Center for Economicology

Winners and honorable mention recipients in the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , Essay Contest

Winners and honorable mention recipients in the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , Essay Contest


Honorable mention recipients and their teachers from the Southwest Community Campus

Honorable mention recipients and their teachers from the Southwest Community Campus

Honorable mention recipients from the Center for Economicology

Honorable mention recipients from the Center for Economicology

Winners and honorable mention recipients from Riverside Middle School

Winners and honorable mention recipients from Riverside Middle School

A Letter to Dr. King

Twanyea Smith, the winner of this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reads his Grand Prize winning essay at the Community Celebration to honor Dr. King on January 18, 2016.  To read Twanyea’s essay and those of the other students honored in the competition, click here. Twanyea is a student in Ms. Emily Holt’s class at Riverside Middle School. (Be patient. The video takes a while to load.)

The essay contest, which is in its 11th year, is open to all sixth-graders at Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Winners are selected by the attorneys and staff of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.

Winners of the 11th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP has announced the results of its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest.  The contest, which is in its 11th year, is open to all sixth-graders at Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Students are asked the students to prepare an essay focused on how Dr. King’s legacy of peace and justice applies to the world in which they live.  This year’s competition included 297 entries from students at 10 schools.

The winners of this year’s contest are:

  • Twanyea Smith, Riverside Middle School, Grand Prize
  • Dayshawn Fields, Riverside Middle School, 1st Runner Up
  • Niko Hinzmann, Center for Economicology, 2nd Runner Up (tie)
  • Kanyia Brown, Riverside Middle School, 2nd Runner Up (tie)

Each of the winners receives a certificate of deposit and a gift card to Schuler Books and Music.  Additionally, 20 students from 5 schools received honorable mention recognition. They each will receive a gift card to Schuler Books and Music.

The essays were judged by more than 50 Warner Norcross attorneys and staff from across the State of Michigan. The essays we judged according to Michigan Education Assessment Program guidelines for narrative writing.  The essays were evaluated for ideas, organization, style and conventions.

The Grand Prize winner has been invited to read his essay at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration program at 6 p.m. on January 18, at the Grand Rapids Community College Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse.  In addition, the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education will recognize all of the winners and the students who received honorable mention at the Board’s meeting on Monday, February 2, 2016.

Congratulations to all of the students who participated in this year’s essay contest and to their teachers.  The winning essays appear below:

 Grand Prize Winner

Twanyea Smith

Ms. Holt’s class at Riverside Middle School

“A Letter to Dr. King”

Dear Dr. King,

Most of the seven billion people on the earth still miss you. Even though you are in a better place, I know you would be willing to help us out like you did in the 1960s. I have to give you credit because even though the world is not a perfect place to be in, you put a giant footstep toward equality in the world. People should keep remembering what you did for our country. You always knew that the most dangerous condition for people is ignorance. Many people have forgotten this, so of course there are some groups of people going against what you stood for.

Now, my question for you is: Would you do it all over again? I can take a pretty good guess that you would. Your answer would be yes because you care for all of the people on this earth today. What I don’t know is what you would advise us to do about Isis and the terrorist people killing innocent ones. What about people who think that only one kind of life matters? Do you think your non-violent approach would work in 2015-16? Many of us are trying it, but nothing positive is happening. People keep getting killed every day.

Dr. King, I’m not trying to ruin your non-violent dream, but in 2015, it is not working out so well. Back then did you have so many people with anger management issues? We do. Some people with anger issues today didn’t learn your non-violence. They will hit back, shoot back, do anything to get revenge. I need some advice to help our world. Getting advice from you is like getting advice from Stephen Curry on shooting a basketball.

Well, Dr. King, I guess I’d better close now. I sure appreciate you taking the time to read my letter in heaven. So Dr. King, I will think of you when I am in a heated situation. I will ask myself what you would do or say. Hopefully I can see you in person in heaven one day.


1st Runner Up

Dayshawn Fields

Ms. Holt’s class at Riverside Middle School

“Betrayal and Beyond”

            Do you stick up for those in need? A powerful statement by Dr. Martin Luther King says it all, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” If you have a friend, and somewhere down the road that friend needs your help but you don’t offer it, what would Dr. King have to say to you?

There is a main reason that this statement has so much impact on my life. My dad hasn’t been in my life permanently, and I haven’t seen him in a long time. I text him, but he doesn’t reply. While he hasn’t betrayed me physically where I don’t see him at all, he has not been available when it would possible for him to be. He has betrayed his son, a thing Dr. King would not be very fond of. I still love my dad, that’s a thing Dr. King would be exceptionally proud of.

From my experiences, and my studies of the wonderful Dr. King, I feel that someday I will be able to have a positive impact on my family by being the best father I can be. I don’t ever want it said of me that my children suffered the silence of betrayal. I don’t want my children to have their father not there when they are going through the difficult or stressful times. Kids need their dads when they first enter preschool, or when they make their first sports team. Event things like relationships can use advice from a father. Then there’s the start of high school and college with no father figure around for support and love. I don’t want any of those negative possibilities.

Dr. King would be very proud of those looking out for others, and he would be very thankful to those putting others in front of themselves. He would also be very appreciative of those who defend America. These include all the military groups, SWAT teams, our local policies officers, and of course, the mighty firefighters. They do their jobs, just like Dr. King did. He spent his life defending America from itself.

While I gave a negative example of the impact this statement has had on my life, it also has provided me a positive one. Dr. King’s words remind me how important it is to be there for others. It must have had the same effect on many other people, so for those of you who are always there, especially when you are needed the most, what would Dr. King have to say to you? I think he would say, “Well done!”

2nd Runner Up (tie)

Niko Hinzmann

Mrs. Phillips class at the Center for Economicology

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”


You don’t have to look very far back in history to see that things were very different. People of color were strongly discriminated against, even after years of being enslaved. Some may find it hard to believe that a person would be treated so unfairly just because of the color of their skin. Sadly people were and sometimes still are.

Not only are people of color discriminated against though. Even something as simple as having a different believe from someone can get you treated in an unfair manner. It’s not fun to think about, but people even today discriminate unfairly. Everyone deserves equal rights in my eyes. If we want the world to live in peace and harmony we cannot be racist or closed-minded. Being open-minded is an important life skill that you will need to live a successful life.

Throughout your life you will need to work with people of different races that possess different believes. If you want to get things done, you have to be accepting and have open arms for equal rights. Some people have troubles with grasping this concept. Not everyone thinks that everyone should have equal rights. Lots of older people are still racist because of how and when they were raised. People tend to have the same morals and ways of raising their children as their parents. If you grew up in a racist and closed-minded household, you tend to think in that unfair way.

You don’t even have to be older to have these ways of thinking. Often times children grow up to be racist because their parents were racist. If all you hear while you’re growing up is negativity and racism, you grow up to be that way. No one is born racist; you are simply raised that way.

Equality and equal rights for everyone will take lots of time, but I do believe it’s possible. Many people in my neighborhood are racist and rude to those of whom have different beliefs from them. Instead of getting upset with them for their ways of thinking, feel bad that they aren’t accepting and won’t be able to experience great things in life because of how they view others who are different.

If you feel like you want to help others see how beautiful equality can be, don’t force it on them. Force can lead to violence, and like how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed, violence is not the answer. Don’t get mad if you can’t help the person, just hope that they will see how amazing equal rights can be.

You don’t even have to say anything; be a silent role model for those around you.

Even if you’re the only person you know who supports equal rights 100%, don’t ever change that part of yourself. Just because you’re standing alone doesn’t mean you have to change what you believe is right. You shouldn’t be embarrassed of supporting equality; be proud. Stand tall and support equal rights!


2nd Runner Up (tie)

Kanyia Brown

Ms. Holt’s class at Riverside Middle School

 “The Unseen Staircase”

            Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what are we going to do with all this violence in our world? You once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” I need to keep this in mind when I look around at our world.

To me, your words mean believing in something that you’ve never actually seen before. Violence is killing our world; darkness and evil are eating up our lives. People are shooting at students in schools, bombing cities, and fighting each other. People are abusing their kids and some are raising them to hate anyone with skin colors that are different than theirs. I need to keep believing that there are solutions to these problems. I hope we have enough time an courage to figure out what they are.

My teacher says that we often live what we learn. Dr. King, sometimes you can’t change what’s already in someone’s head. Some people are taught to hate others that are different than they are, like a different race than theirs. We have too many people who use guns in the wrong ways or situations. But if you think about it, we need to have the power to protect ourselves too. But not in the wrong way. We have to defeat them with our power. That power is kindness.

Rose Parks and Dr. King both were always kind even when  they were fighting injustice. Rose Parks fought for her seat because she thought it was unfair for African-Americans to be required to sit in the back of public buses, but she wasn’t the unkind one.

Dr. King, you once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I know it was dark back then, and it’s still dark now. We need the light you shed a long time ago to come back.

I’m just a 6th grader at Riverside Middle School. At my school, our behavior specialist, Mr. Smiley, just had a terrible thing happen in his life. His son recently died in a car crash and I feel for him. I know he wouldn’t want me to keep on feeling back; he would want me to focus on school. He’s always trying to keep us all focused and positive each day. I know these things happen in life; life is imperfect. Yet, even when you, Martin Luther King, was in a horrible situation, you tried to remember to see the whole picture even when it wasn’t done yet.

I hope I can hold on to my belief that faith in good things will carry me through all the rest of my life. I hope I can be like you and see the whole staircase and have trust with every step I take.

Entering Class of Associates Is the Firm’s Most Diverse Ever

2015 Entering Class

As reported in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Warner Norcross & Judd’s entering class of new associates is the firm’s most diverse class of new associates in the firm’s history. The new attorneys, who have all been admitted to the State Bar of Michigan, will practice in the Grand Rapids office of the firm. They are:

  • Ashley G. Chrysler, who received her law degree from the Michigan State University College of Law summa cum laude where she was senior managing editor for The Michigan State Law Review. She also holds a bachelor of arts summa cum laude in political science and criminal justice from Saginaw Valley State University. Chrysler has held numerous internships, including for Michigan Court of Appeals Research Division, Ingham County Probate Court, Saginaw County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Bay County Personnel Department. She won the American Bar Association National Appellate Advocacy Competition.
  • Mi-Hae Kim, who received her law degree from the MSU College of Law magna cum laude where she was managing editor for The Michigan State International Law Review. She also holds a bachelor of arts in economics from the University of Michigan. Kim has served as judicial clerk for the Hon. John C. Griffin of the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago. She also served as managing member of Citridian Logistics, LLC in Grosse Pointe.
  • Danyale M. Phillips, who received her law degree from the MSU College of Law where she worked with the State Appellate Defender Office as a student attorney for the Plea and Sentencing Clinic. She also holds a bachelor of arts in political science from Spelman College in Atlanta. Phillips has served as legal intern for Spectrum Health and as administrative support specialist for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
  • Kent D. Sparks, who received his law degree from the MSU College of Law summa cum laude where he was senior notes editor for The Michigan State Law Review. He also holds a bachelor of arts with high distinction in education from the University of Michigan. He is a trained civil and domestic mediator. He taught science and history at Northville High School prior to attending law school. He also served as an elected member of the board of education for the Whitmore Lake Public Schools from 2009-2012.
  • Amber M. Underhill, who received her law degree from Notre Dame Law School. She also holds a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish from Grand Valley State University. Underhill externed with the University of Notre Dame’s Office of General Counsel and has previously served as intellectual property paralegal for Warner Norcross.

Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Tech Industry

The tech industry has come under scrutiny for its lack of diversity. While there are some prominent women in the industry, such as Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Melissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!), the industry is dominated by males. Moreover, few people in tech are Latino or African American.

Major tech companies have woken up to this and are taking steps to become more inclusive. Recently, Sheryl Sandberg announced that Facebook is sharing part of its new training program on unconscious bias. In her announcement, Sandberg wrote, “Managing bias is an essential part of building diverse and high-performing organizations. We know we still have a long way to go, but by helping people recognize and correct for bias, we can take a step towards equality – at work, at home and in everyday life.”

The presentation portions of Facebook’s training program are available online at The training program is divided into seven short modules, which should be watched in sequence:

1. Welcome
2. Introductions and First Impressions
3. Stereotypes and Performance Bias
4. Performance Attribution Bias
5. Competence/Likeability Tradeoff Bias
6. Maternity Bias
7. Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion and What You Can Do

Facebook recommends that before you view the presentation modules, you take an implicit assumption test (IAT) to explore your unconscious biases. Project Implicit at Harvard has over a dozen different tests you can take, on anything from gender, race and sexual orientation to weight, religion and disability. Each test takes less than 10 minutes. To take an IAT, go to One the opening screen, select the second option on the left to continue as a guest.

Google has also been addressing unconscious bias with training of its own. In the following video, Dr. Brian Welle, Google’s Director of People Analytics, discusses how unconscious bias works at Google and how the company is interrupting.

One Book, One Firm Panel Discussion Video

Here is a video (in two parts) of the panel discussion of Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange History of Integration in America, by Tanner Colby.  The book was the One Book, One Firm Selection for Warner Norcross & Judd.  The panel included, civil rights attorney Stephen Drew, Father John Geaney, the Rector of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Grand Rapids, and Nancy Haynes, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan.  Warner Norcross & Judd’s Diversity Partner, Rodney Martin, moderated the discussion.

Part 1

Part 2