For the past 11 years, Warner Norcross & Judd has reported annually about its efforts to become a more diverse and inclusive organization. The 2016 Report has just been issued and is available on the firm’s website, along with past reports, by clicking here. The Report includes a letter from the firm’s Managing Partner, Doug Dozeman, and profiles that highlight Warner Norcross female attorneys who are leaders across the state and other individuals who have unique stories of why they joined the firm. In addition, the Report includes articles about the firm’s Martin Luther King, Jr. , Essay Contest for students in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, the firm’s 2016 One Book, One Firm program that discussed the immigrant experience, and the firm’s unique collaboration with the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre to bring to the stage productions that focus on issues related to diversity and inclusion.
Last evening, the Grand Rapids Board of Education recognized the winners and honorable mention recipients in this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest. Rodney Martin, the firm’s Diversity Partner, introduced the winners, who each had an opportunity to read their essay during the public meeting. Mr. Martin then introduced each of the 24 honorable mention recipients, who came forward to receive their awards. You can read the winning essays here.
This was the 12th year that Warner Norcross & Judd has conducted the essay contest for sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Over 300 students from 12 different middle schools submitted essays that responded to one of three prompts concerning the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The essays were read and judged by over 50 attorneys and staff members at Warner. Here are photos of the winners, and the honorable mention recipients.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a major impact on the lives of many and his legacy still rings true today. This year, Warner Judd Norcross LLP asked sixth grade students in Grand Rapids to enter an essay contest to discuss the lasting impacts of his legacy. Now in its 12th year, the contest asks students to explore the work of Dr. King. Students wrote about the impact he had on equal rights in society, a conversation they would have with Dr. King or the impact of one of his many famous quotes has had on their lives. The competition is open to all sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district.
This year the firm received 314 essay submissions from 10 different schools. Essays were judged by more than 50 Warner Norcross attorneys and staff according to Michigan Education Assessment Program guidelines for narrative writing. The essays were evaluated for ideas, organization, style and conventions.
This year’s winners are:
Each winning student will receive a a gift card to Schuler Books and Music. Additionally, 24 students from seven schools received honorable mention recognition. They each will receive a gift card to Schuler Books and Music. Every student who submitted an essay will receive a certificate of participation.Cepaitis and all winners are invited to attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Program held Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Fountain Street Church. All winners will be recognized by their peers and parents and listen to Cepaitis read her winning essay.
The grand prize winner and, if time permits, the two runners-up will be given an opportunity to read their essays at the GRPS Board of Education meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20. Warner Norcross Diversity Partner Rodney Martin will be in attendance at both programs to introduce the winners.
Grand Prize Winner
Riverside Middle School
Ms. Holt’s Sixth Grade Class
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This quote has had an impact on my life as well as on the lives of others. Kids in school struggle with this situation as well as adults in society where witnesses to crimes and other bad things stay silent out of fear. Most people would like to step up and do the right thing, but they are afraid. We need to get some guts and do what Dr. King suggested.
I remember a time when I stayed silent. It was a gloomy day when I was in the third grade. We had gone outside for recess, and the snow was covering the wood chips and play things. A quiet girl sat on the cold swings a couple of yards from me as I was making a snow angel. A boy ran over to the girl demanding that she give up her swing. She refused, quietly telling him there were lots of swings open. He pushed her off the swing into the snow. She stood up and her pants were soaked. The girl tried to wipe the slushy snow from her pants, I don’t know why, but I just went to the other side of the playground and kept making snow angels. After the lunch bell rang, I just walked back into the building and left her standing there all miserable and cold. The whole time I was thinking, You should have done something! You should have helped her! But I did nothing.
Ever since that day, the experience has haunted me. I still feel the same shame I did then when I remained quiet. Now I try to speak up for what is right and stop things like this at school, at the park, and everywhere I go. I now realize that I need to stop a bully’s tauntings right as they start instead of silently letting them happen. Every word we speak or don’t speak can make an impact. Dr. King tried to tell us that, and finally, I am listening.
1st Runner Up
Gerald R. Ford Academic Center
Mr. Gleason’s Sixth Grade Class
“The Quote I Like the Most”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This is my favorite quote from MLK because it really spoke to me. It told me that if a person says something mean to me, they are just bringing darkness. But if you say something back to them you are bringing more darkness. It’s like the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”
This quote makes a positive difference in my life because I used to get called mean names all the time. I don’t let that bother me because I’m not going to hold a grudge or bring darkness into the problem. The only way you can bring light into the problem is if you bring light and positivity into the problem. This quote helps me make a positive difference in the lives of my family and friends by encouraging me to be positive as much as possible. There are times when I may disagree with someone close to me, but that does not mean I have to be negative or dark about the situation. Reflecting on this quote encourages me to think positively about the situation, even if it may not be in my favor. It’s important to think about, and to consider, other peoples’ points of view, as it shows that you embrace diversity of thought.
Negativity breeds negativity, which is why it’s so important to be a beacon of light, positivity, and love through all circumstances. People tend to feel and feed off of positive energy. If more people can change their attitudes toward more positive thoughts, the world would be on track to become a better place, just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned it.
In an effort to make the world a better place, we should aim to drive out hate by filtering in positivity and love. Dr. King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” I think people can look up to this quote.
2nd Runner Up
Southwest Community Campus
Ms. Quinlan’s Sixth Grade Class
“Judge Yourself First”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist who believed in equal rights for all. He changed American History
I believe in equal rights. I believe that everyone deserves equality regardless of the color of their skin, the place they are from or the things they believe in. I know it is difficult for certain people to believe in equal rights, but I have a few things to say that just might make them change their minds.
It’s important for people to have equal rights regardless of race, color or beliefs because equality is freedom. Free of worry, free to travel and free to be whom you are when it comes to your beliefs. Being free is important; equal rights make you free.
It’s difficult for certain people to believe in equal rights. For example, some Americans believe if you aren’t from America you don’t have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Why does where we are born change the word ‘equal’ to ‘unequal’? I believe these people are wrong. The places we are or where we were in the past may define culture and traditions, but they don’t define our character. We all have hearts and care; that makes every single human being equal.
I would say the following to someone who doesn’t believe in equal rights: I think you may not believe in equal rights because of how the world is separated into different places. You may think all of the different places people come from means they are different. Like maybe you think they have different hearts, different ways to show kindness and different minds. It doesn’t. No matter our color, race or believes we are all the same. Human.
At the end of the day, regardless of race, color or beliefs, we all are the same. Nothing else but our character tells us who we are as people. If you’re going to judge, quietly judge yourself. Judging is a sign of lack of character. Be friendly, be nice, be peaceful, be willing, be someone who believes in equal rights.
I leave you to think about the following quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Warner Norcross & Judd’s One Book, One Firm program continues on Tuesday, July 21, with a panel discussion about this year’s OBOF selection, The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. Earlier this summer, Nardos Osterhart performed her presentation, Hafrican, in which she told us her story of emigrating to Oklahoma City with her family from Ethiopia when she was five. Nardos will join us once again as part of the panel on July 21.
Joining her on the panel will be:
- Alice Kennedy –Alice is the founder and director of Diversity Theatre and works in talent recruitment for Gordon Food Services. Alice was a presenter for our first One Book, One Firm selection in 2008 (Stealing Buddha’s Dinner). Alice and her family were refugees who fled South Vietnam when it fell to the Viet Cong in 1975.
- William Blacquiere – Bill is the President and CEO of Bethany Christian Services. In partnership with local churches and community agencies, Bethany Christian Services welcomes refugee and immigrant families and helps them adjust to a new life in the United States. Bethany offers a wide range of services to refugees, including refugee and immigrant foster care, resettlement services, and supportive trauma treatment plans for refugees and immigrants who are victims of torture.
- Dr. Simin Naz Beg — Simin specializes in hospice and palliative medicine and is a member of the Spectrum Health medical group where her work focuses on improving access to care for vulnerable populations. Simin, originally from Pakistan, earned her medical degree from Nishtar Medical College and completed her graduate medical education at Michigan State University.
The Arrival is a story of one immigrant’s experience leaving his family and his home to find opportunity in a strange and wondrous place. Along the way he is helped by other immigrants who share their stories. The book is a graphic novel without any words. The author relies upon the pictures to tell the stories.
Here are two brief videos on Youtube that serve as a nice introduction to the book. The first is an abridged version of the story set to music. The second is a review of the book delivered in sign language with English subtitles. Author Shaun Tan came across this review and was struck by the parallel between the experiences of immigrants with the experiences of persons with disabilities.
Warner Norcross & Judd is excited to be the Production Sponsor for the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s production of Caroline, or Change, a play by Tony Kushner. The play is set in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1963 during the civil rights movement. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American, single mother of four who works as a maid for the Gellmans, a Jewish family headed by Stuart, whose wife recently died. Stuart’s new wife, Rose, has recently come from New York to live with the family in the deep south. Caroline, or Change explores how Caroline, Rose and their families adapt in a time of tumultuous change. The play, which is all performed in song, was nominated for six Tony awards, including Best Musical. In London, it won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
We are pleased that the Grand Rapids Urban League will be joining Warner Norcross as an Artistic Sponsor of the production. The Urban League has a long record of service promoting civil rights and economic development. The Grand Rapids Urban League has worked with the Civic Theatre to present some historical exhibits in the lobby for patrons to view before the show.
Each season Warner Norcross & Judd supports the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s efforts to bring to the stage productions that address issues of diversity and inclusion. Past productions sponsored by Warner Norcross have included, among others, Avenue Q, Having Our Say, The Piano Lesson, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Twelve Angry Men.
Caroline, or Change opens on June 3 and runs through June 19. For more information, read this article in The Rapidian and take a look at these videos about some of the cast members. You can find more profiles of cast members by following this link to the Civic Theatre’s website for Caroline, or Change.
Lisa Butler, as Caroline:
Alex Sullivan, as Noah Gellman
Tarita Dooley, as Dottie
As part of its One Book, One Firm program, Warner Norcross is excited to host a presentation of Halfrican, by Nardos Osterhart. Nardos is nurse at Spectrum’s Blodgett Hospital. Halfrican is a one-person show about the immigrant experience, culture shock, and fitting in. Nardos and her family came to the United States from Ethiopia when she was just 5 years old. Her family settled in Oklahoma City. Ever since, she has been juggling two worlds.
Nardos explains Halfrican as follows: “I think in some ways, Halfrican is a bit of an explanation to people. To Ethiopians that I don’t necessarily connect with because I don’t have all of my culture intact. And also an explanation to Americans of why I am the way I am. And it’s a little bit of permission to myself, because I’ve had to make changes and deviate from a cultural path and expectation that was sent in front for me.”
Halfrican is part memoir and part stand-up comedy act. (In 2013, Nardos won a competition to be named “The Funniest Person in Grand Rapids.”) It promises to be a thought-provoking and entertaining presentation.