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

Panel Discusses Integration in America at Warner Norcross

As part of the firm’s eight annual One Book, One Firm program, Warner Norcross & Judd assembled a distinguished panel to discuss this year’s One Book, One Firm selection, Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange History of Integration in America, by Tanner Colby.  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.

Some of My Best Friends Are Black looks at efforts to integrate schools, neighborhoods, the workplace, and the church in the second half of the twentieth century.  All of the panelists agreed that the book provided fresh and surprising insights.

When asked to describe what we mean by “integration,” Nancy Haynes distinguished it from desegregation.  “Desegregation,” she said, “means removing the barriers.  True integration happens when you have meaningful, intentional interactions.” She went on, “integration to be successful has to be an intentional choice.”

Father Geaney agreed, noting “You have to respect peoples’ desire for faith and for community. You can’t force these issues.”

The panel discussed how efforts at integration, if handled without respect for all people and their cultures, are not likely to succeed.  Stephen Drew recounted how efforts to desegregate Grand Rapids by closing South High School and busing the students across town, took a heavy toll on the surrounding neighborhood.  Nancy Haynes, whose office is just a block from the old South High School, agreed that closing the school “ripped the heart out of the community.” If integration is not done correctly, she noted, “everything can be lost and it can take years and years and years to rebuild it.”

Father Geaney recounted his service to St. Augustine Church, an African American Church in South Memphis, Tennessee, and how the church was a vital part of African American culture.  “There is a larger argument about whether we should abandon one culture in order to integrate,” he said.  “Should we abandon all the beauty that comes from the African American culture and make it a polyglot? That would be a shame.”

Stephen Drew said it doesn’t matter whether people tend to worship among people like themselves, after all people have many different religious traditions.  “It is what happens afterwards and whether you take what you learn in church and apply it to treat everybody equally outside of church,” he said.

Father Geaney asked, “When was the last time somebody that we went to dinner with was black or Hispanic?  When was the last time that we went to a movie with some of our black friends?” He continued, “These are the moments when we become human. These are the things that we do that say these are our friends.  These are the people we want to live with. These are the people we want in our neighborhood. Seems to me that’s the level where you begin. And our society will be integrated faster if we could somehow get to that point of friendship with one another.”

As the program came to a close, Stephen Drew praised the book for identifying and explaining the systems that brought about segregation and reminded the audience that we also have to address those systems and policies, such as mass incarceration, that remain in place today that hold back the African American community and work against an integrated society.

In closing, Rodney Martin noted the obvious parallels between desegregation and integration, on the one hand, and diversity and inclusion, on the other.  “Like desegregation in Colby’s book,” Martin said, “today’s focus on diversity is too often only about ‘racial accounting,’ with insufficient regard for whether organizations and communities are actually inclusive.”  According to Martin, Colby’s thesis is that integration is more than moving people around to achieve a racial balance. Integration requires a conscious choice. Colby writes: “Integration doesn’t do anything. It is something that is done by people and only by mutual choice.”

“Like integration in our society,” Martin said, “inclusion in our schools, neighborhoods, churches, and in our law firm, is a matter of choice. It cannot be mandated by policies. Instead, it requires a deeply personal commitment involving person-to-person relations.” Martin challenged those in the audience to choose to practice include, in order that we can achieve the full benefit of our diversity.

Warner Norcross Provides 2015 Minority Scholarships

For the 15th consecutive year, the law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP has provided academic scholarships to assist minority students from Michigan in completing their legal studies.

A competitive scholarship administered and awarded by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Warner Norcross scholarship program provides monetary assistance to students to help cover the educational costs associated with a law degree or paralegal studies.  The 2015 recipients are:

  • Lakisha D. Favorite of Benton Harbor, Law School Scholarship
  • NaChelle D. Webster of Detroit, Paralegal/Legal Assistant Scholarship
Since it began offering scholarships, Warner Norcross has provided more than $162,000 to support programs that encourage minority students to pursue a career in the law.  To date, the firm has provided scholarships to nearly 80 students.

The 2015 winners were chosen by a selection committee at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation based on essays that outlined personal goals and challenges that have drawn them into the field of law.  Warner Norcross established the scholarship fund at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in 1998; the first scholarship was awarded in 2001.

Favorite, who received the law firm’s $5,000 Law School Scholarship, earned her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College in Atlanta. As an undergrad, Favorite chose to major in English so she would grow accustomed to the large amount of reading and writing she knew would face in law school.

Favorite plans to attend the University of Michigan Law School. Upon becoming an attorney, she intends to improve federal policy, “transform institutions” and ensure essential resources for individuals in need.

“Having accepted an offer of admission into the University of Michigan Law School, I am eager to exercise the law’s power as a change agent for troubled communities,” Favorite said.

Webster received the law firm’s $2,000 Paralegal/Legal Assistant Scholarship. She plans to complete her degree at Oakland Community College and hopes to use her education to become a certified paralegal. She plans to continue to develop her work as a freelance paralegal as a flexible income source in the event she decides to further her education by attending graduate school.  Her career plans include becoming a member of the U.S. Senate.

“I chose the Oakland Community College paralegal program because it is ABA accredited,” Webster said. “I knew I would get a quality education that would allow me to compete in the workplace with my peers.”

In order to be considered for a scholarship, applicants must:

  • Have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher
  • Be a Michigan resident accepted to or currently attending an accredited law school within the U.S. or a non-Michigan resident attending a Michigan law school (for the Law School Scholarship)
  • Be a Michigan resident enrolled in an accredited college or university in Michigan (for the Paralegal Scholarship)
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Submit a statement of goals and aspirations related to their legal studies
  • Be a member of an ethnic or racial minority
In addition to its longstanding tuition scholarship program, Warner Norcross also annually provides scholarships to minority students in their junior or senior year of college to pay the costs of a study course for the Law School Admission Test.  Information about these scholarship programs is available on the firm’s website at

Seven Students Receive LSAT Prep Scholarships from Warner Norcross

Seven minority students have received Law School Admissions Test Preparation, or LSAT, scholarships from Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.

Now in its eighth year, the program provides scholarships to enable selected minority students at Michigan colleges to attend a study course designed to prepare them to take the LSAT. Studies have shown that students who take a formal LSAT prep course score higher on the test, which determines entrance into law school.

The 2015 scholarship winners are:

  • Valerie Cook, Eastern Michigan University
  • Angel Gamon, Grand Valley State University
  • Nimsy Garcia, Oakland University
  • Jewel Haji, Grand Valley State University
  • Jameelah Sabir, University of Michigan – Dearborn
  • Prathibha Singh, Ferris State University
  • Brie Starks, University of Michigan
 The LSAT program is one of two scholarship initiatives offered by the firm to promote diversity in the legal profession. Warner Norcross also sponsors a Minority Scholarship Program that provides financial support to students pursuing a legal career.

Charles Ash Named to Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation Leadership Post

ASHCNCharles N. Ash, Jr., a partner with the law firm Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, has been named to the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation Executive Committee for the Board of Directors.

The Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation is the strategic fundraising partner of Grand Rapids Public Schools. The Foundation supports programs in five areas of impact including the arts, the environment, literacy, physical wellness and math and science. Ash, who is a graduate of Creston High School, will serve a two-year term as secretary of the committee.

Ash concentrates his practice in litigation and has extensive experience representing businesses in complex contract and tort litigation in state and federal trial courts throughout the country.  He has been recognized as a Michigan Super Lawyer and recognized as a Michigan Super Lawyer Rising Star.

In addition to the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, he serves on the board of the Calvin College Alumni Association.  He is a graduate of both Leadership Grand Rapids and Leadership West Michigan.

Ash received his bachelor’s degree from Calvin College and earned his doctor of jurisprudence from Stanford University.

Announcing the 2015 One Book, One Firm Selection

Some of my best friendsEach 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 Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange History of Integration in America, by Tanner Colby.   Nominated for the 2013 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, this book examines integration in the United States during the second half of the 20th Century.  In four sections of the book, Tanner Colby looks at integration of schools, integration of neighborhoods, integration in the workplace, and integration in the church.

As Colby admits in the introduction of his book, he was no expert on race.  His previous two books were biographies of John Belushi and Chris Farley. Worried that he had pigeonholed himself into writing books about “dead, fat comedians,” Colby begin thinking of another topic he could address.  Following the nomination of Barack Obama in 2008, Colby had an epiphany: “I didn’t actually know any Black people.  I mean, I’ve met them, have been acquainted with a few in passing, here and there.  I know of Black people, you could say. But none of my friends were black.”  Upon further reflection, Colby proposed to his editor that he write a book on racial integration in America. “Sure, I had no idea what I was doing,” he writes,  “but to be a white person writing a book about race, ignorance was the only qualification I would need.”

Colby appears to have approached the topic with few preconceptions.  His book is, at once, both entertaining and thought provoking.  To discuss school integration, he returns to his hometown in Georgia to learn about how busing worked.  The section on neighborhoods recounts the history of government sanctioned redlining and blockbusting with a focus on a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri. For integration in the business world, Colby focuses on the advertising industry, where he worked before starting his career as a writer.  And, for the section on religion, Colby tells the story of the Catholic church’s effort over more than 20 years to bring together two Catholic parishes in Louisiana – one white, one black – that were right next door to one another (they shared a parking lot and for a time a priest).

Described by The Wilson Quarterly as “a refreshingly honest and textured story that has much to contribute to conversations about race in America,” Some of My Best Friends Are Black should provide us much to talk about.