Warner Norcross Announces Winners of MLK Essay Contest

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:

  • Tess Cepaitis, Riverside Middle School, Grand Prize
  • Myaja Dunning, Gerald R. Ford Academic Center, First Runner-Up
  • Carmen Perdomo, Southwest Community Center, Second Runner-Up

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.

Here are the winning essays:

Grand Prize Winner

 Tess Cepaitis

Riverside Middle School

Ms. Holt’s Sixth Grade Class

“Silence”

 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

Myaja Dunning

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

Carmen Perdomo

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.

Panel to Discuss “The Arrival”

The ArrivalWarner 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.


The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre Presents “Caroline, or Change”

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

One Book, One Firm Presents “Halfrican,” by Nardos Osterhart

As part of its One Book, One Firm program, Warner NardosPoster_LyonSt_2Norcross 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.

Warner Norcross Announces Its One Book, One Firm Selection for 2016

The ArrivalEach year in our One Book, One Firm program at Warner Norcross & Judd, we select a book relating to diversity and inclusion and encourage everyone in the firm to read and discuss it. This year’s One Book, One Firm selection is The Arrival, by Shaun Tan.

The Arrival is unlike any other One Book, One Firm selection. It is a graphic novel without any words.  But, it is more than just a “picture book.” Through 128 pages of beautiful, wordless drawings, Tan evokes the immigrant experience.  The New York Times summarized the book, as follows:

“The Arrival” tells not an immigrant’s story, but the immigrant’s story. Its protagonist, a young father with vaguely Eurasian features, leaves his home to create a better life for his family in a distant land of opportunity. He struggles to find a job, a place to stay and a sense of meaning in his new existence. Along the way he befriends other, more established immigrants. He listens to their stories and benefits from their kindnesses. The young father reunites with his family as “The Arrival” draws to a close, and the distant land finally becomes home.

Shaun Tan is an artist and filmmaker from Australia.  In 2011, he won the Best Animated Short Film (“The Lost Thing”).  Tan describes himself as half-Chinese (his father was from China).  In an essay in which he describes the influences that led to his writing the book, Tan talks about his “recurring interest in notions of ‘belonging’, particularly the finding or losing of it.”  He writes:

Being a half-Chinese at a time a place when this was fairly unusual may have compounded this, as I was constantly being asked ‘where are you from?’ to which my response of ‘here’ only prompted a deeper inquiry, ‘where do your parents come from?’  At least this was far more positive attention than the occasional low-level racism I experienced as a child, and which I also noticed directed either overtly or surreptitiously at my Chinese father from time to time. Growing up I did have a vague sense of separateness, an unclear notion of identity or detachment from roots, on top of that traditionally contested concept of what it is to be ‘Australian’, or worse, ‘un-Australian’ (whatever that might mean).

There has been a lot of talk in this political year of building walls and meeting or failing to meet the needs of Syrian refugees.  With this year’s One Book, One Firm selection, we will step back from the political arguments and consider the immigrant experience and what it might teach us about inclusion in an organization like ours.

Each year we also create a list of other recommended reading that touches on diversity and inclusion and make them available in the firm’s libraries.  This year’s list includes four works of nonfiction and four novels.

Nonfiction

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  In a powerful series of essays written in the form of letters to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates engages in a frank discussion of race in America.  Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  This is an important book that has been compared to the writings of James Baldwin.

My Beloved World, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor’s autobiography tells the story of her journey, from her childhood in a Bronx housing project to taking a seat on the federal bench. Resolving as a young girl to become a lawyer, Sotomayor graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and summa cum laude from Princeton, before attending law school at Yale and beginning her legal career.  NPR’s Nina Totenberg said of this book, “This is a page-turner, beautifully written and novelistic in its tale of family, love and triumph. It hums with hope and exhilaration. This is a story of human triumph.”

‘Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt.  Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was a huge bestseller and received a Pulitzer Prize.  McCourt’s next book was ‘Tis a Memoir, the story of his coming to the United States as an impoverished immigrant and becoming an brilliant teacher.

Managing Bubbie, by Russel Lazega.  Bubbie is an aging, stubborn survivor of the Holocaust, who lives in Miami Beach.  In a touching and hilarious family memoir, Bubbie’s grandson, a Miami lawyer, tells the story of the family’s efforts to care for a strong-willed woman in her declining years. From the BlueInk Review: “Lazega brings Bubbie to life with humor and love through side-splitting comedic dialogue and a powerful historical narrative accompanied with letters illuminating Lea’s struggle raising a family in Hitler’s Europe. Her improbable, hair-raising escape from Poland via Belgium, France and Spain illustrates the resourcefulness, derring-do, and sheer chutzpah of a woman who delivered her family to safety.”

Fiction

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Americanah was the winner of the 2013 National Book Award.  The author’s website describes the book as follows: “Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.”

Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Lowland” is a novel set in both India and the United States.  It tells the story of two brothers who grew up in Calcutta. One brother ventures to the United States to do scientific research.  He returns to India following the death of the other brother in the hopes of piecing together the shattered remnants of his family.  Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her first collection of short stories, Interpreters of Maladies, which is available in the firm’s diversity library.

Dancing with Butterflies, by Reyna Grande.  Reyna Grande’s Dancing with Butterflies, is novel about the friendship of four women bound together by their Mexican roots and their love of Folklórico dance. Dancing with Butterflies uses the alternating voices of four very different women in a Los Angeles dance company called Alegría to weave a story of friendship and love.

Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See.  [From the Publisher] “In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.”

Warner Norcross & Judd Publishes its 10th Annual Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report

CaptureWarner Norcross & Judd has published its 2015 Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report.  The report, which the firm has been issuing for 10 years, highlights the firm’s efforts to become a more diverse and inclusive organization.  The 2015 report tells stories of mentorship in professional development, which the firm recognizes is
a key for all associates to succeed.  The report also features articles on the firm’s One Book, One Firm program, its Diversity Book Club, and the inclusive leadership workshop the firm conducted for in 2015.

You can read a copy of the 2015 Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report by following this link.  Copies of the reports from previous years are also available online by clicking here.