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The Winning MLK Essay

The winner of this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr., reads her grand prize essay at the Community Celebration at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids

 

 

Winners of the 2017-18 Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest

To honor the legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., each year Warner Norcross + Judd conducts an essay contest for sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Now in its 13th year, the contest drew 342 essay submissions – 28 more than last year – from 16 different schools. Essays were judged by more than 50 Warner Norcross attorneys and staff, using the Michigan Education Assessment Program guidelines for narrative writing. The essays were evaluated for ideas, organization, style and conventions.

This year’s winners are:
• R’mani Belcher, Riverside Middle School, Grand Prize
• Alayne Anderson, Center for Economicology, First Runner-up
• Sha’Myah Dixon, Riverside Middle School, Second Runner-up

Additionally, 23 students from eight different schools received honors mentions. They attend C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy, Center for Economicology, Grand Rapids Montessori, Grand Rapids Public Museum School, Harrison Park School, John Ball Zoo School, Riverside Middle School and Sherwood Park.

All winning and honorable mention students and their parents are invited to attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Program held Monday, Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Fountain Street Church. Belcher will read her essay, and all others will be invited to stand for recognition.

Additionally, the grand prize winner and the two runners-up will be given an opportunity to read their essays at the Monday, Feb. 5 GRPS Board of Education meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Warner Norcross Diversity Partner Rodney Martin will be in attendance at both programs to introduce the winners.

Each winning and honorable mention student will receive a gift card to Schuler Books and Music and all others will receive a personalized certificate of participation.

The winning essays appear below:

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

R’mani Belcher

Riverside Middle School

Ms. Holt, teacher

“A Step of Faith”

Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

            Let me start out by saying that I’m not a very confident or positive kind of person. Almost the opposite! Dr. King, on the other hand, was confident and always saw his glass as half full. His positivity changed our lives for the better. This quote has motivated and inspired me to have a little more faith in myself and others.

To me this quote means that you have to have faith in anything you strongly believe in, even though you might not know what you have ahead of you. We need to keep our faith strong even when we don’t know the consequences of acting on it. There was a time when something like this happened to me.

A couple of years ago, I was walking to my bus stop and I overheard an older kid from our school bullying a girl that I’ve hadn’t seen before. At first I did nothing, and I just stood there. I listened to what the older kid was saying, and I was shocked and paralyzed. She was calling her ugly and stupid and a whole bunch of stuff just to put her down. I walked up closer. There was a crowd of kids cheering her on. The victim girl was in tears. No one stood up for her. There was a lot of cursing involved too. They had her in a corner now. I didn’t know what to do. I was just in a daze, watching, hoping that someone would help this girl. But no one did, not even me.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. Without thinking I shoved my way to the front of the crowd. My heart raced. My mouth opened, but nothing came out. Kids started yelling for me to get out of the way, but I didn’t move. Not like I could anyway; I was frozen with fear and no plan. I glanced at the picked on girl; she stopped crying. It felt like we looked into each other’s souls. The older kid pushed me, all of a sudden I calmly talked to her. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it must have been good because I do remember the look on the bully’s face! The whole crowd was in awe. I felt like such the bigger person! The older kid said something under her breath and left. Shortly the crowd of kids left too.

I looked into the girl’s eyes and she burst into tears. She tightly gave me a hug and I could feel the weights being lifted off her shoulders. I started to cry too. She whispered into my ear two words: “Thank you!”

I never did find out how the whole thing started, but I’ll never forget how it ended. That girl and I are still friends to this day! I never thought that I could do something so good or changing for ANYONE! Just like Dr. King, I’ve won a fight without using violence. And I thank myself for giving myself that step of faith.


 

FIRST RUNNER-UP

Alayne Anderson

Center For Economicology

Mrs. Phillips

            Life is an important thing, and God chose to give us life for a reason. Thus we all need to live life to the fullest. But how, how are we supposed to do this if we are not all truly accepted as equals. Our constitution, the United States constitution stated that all men were created “equal.” But if that is true why are people today still persecuted and ridiculed for believing in their own god?

Please, please tell me why the people of “power” can talk about other races as though they aren’t people of worth. No scratch that, please tell me why anyone can talk about other human beings like they are worthless. It’s not by any means right, people should always be treated equally, no matter their sexual orientation, race, religion, or who they love. It’s so important to accept people. Did you know that 5,000 LGBTQ youth now take their lives each year, and 500,000 attempt suicide? Those are repulsive statistics.

Do you want to know what I think? I think people are afraid of change and diversity. I think we are all just cowards, not just me and not just you, but everyone. I suppose the reason for this is because you have to get rid of your old ideas or opinions and embrace new and unknown ones. Humans are stubborn, we stick to what we’re comfortable with.

            Look at yourself, right now. Embrace yourself. Now tell me, what color are you? Some of you may be black and some of you may be so white you sometimes feel transparent. Do you know what color I am? My color is human, that is the only color I could ever want to be. Labels are for clothes, not people. So what if you’re gay, so what if you’re straight, or black, or for god’s sake green. You are no less human than the person sitting next to you today. So I implore you to make a change in how you feel. I, a mere child cannot make you change. But if I did, then I know that I have made you a better person, and you have fulfilled god’s request to love all.


SECOND RUNNER-UP

Sha’Myah Dixon

Riverside Middle School

Miss Holt

“No More Silence”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

            There are different kinds of silence. Sometimes we should speak up and get what’s bothering us out. Other times we should speak up to keep people from doing bad things. What would happen to our world and lives if all of a sudden no one cared about anybody and let bad things happen without saying anything? I believe everyone’s lives would be miserable if they kept either silence. There would be no happiness; there would be nothing but sadness in the world.

            When I watch the news, I see a lot of terrible things that maybe could have been prevented if someone had spoken up. In Kalamazoo and other cities on the news, there’s been a lot of shooting. Most of that is because people don’t want to talk; they want to keep silent about what’s bothering them. They also keep silent even if they know some information that could stop someone from snapping and hurting other people. That’s why the government always says, “If you see something, say something.”

            Eleven years ago, in 2006, my father’s life became miserable because of his silence. That day my father went to jail. If he had spoken up and told the police who caused this whole thing, he wouldn’t be where he is now. Instead he got lied on and took the blame for everything.

That day I found out that I wouldn’t have a father to read bedtime stories to me, or be there to drive me to the bus corner when I was scared. I always wanted to go to a father/daughter dance with him, but I couldn’t because he wasn’t there. All those years ago I remained silent; I never told anyone how I felt.

            As Americans we need to learn about all the different kinds of silence. We need to find out if people need our help to work things out in their lives. If we don’t, we can’t stop the evilness from coming into this world. In other conditions, we need to speak up in order to right wrongs. Either way, there should be no more silence.

Panel Discusses Civility in WNJ’s One Book, One Firm Program

We had a very interesting session in our One Book, One Firm program with a great panel discussion on civility and incivility in the political and civic arenas and how we can respond as citizens and as members of our communities to what people see as a rising level of incivility. The panelists for the program were Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Commissioner Joe Jones, former Michigan legislator Ken Sikkema , and John Inhulsen, Warner Norcross Senior Counsel in our Grand Rapids office. Warner partner Rodney Martin hosted the program, which was simulcast by video conference to each of our offices.

 

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Six Warner Norcross Minority Scholarships Awarded to Assist Students with Legal Studies

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP recently provided scholarships to six minority students to assist them in furthering their legal studies.  Two students were awarded WNJ Minority Scholarships that are administered and awarded by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.  Now in its 17th year, the Warner Norcross scholarship provides monetary assistance to help cover the educational costs associated with a law degree or paralegal studies.
The 2017 scholarship winners are:
  • Marsheda Ewulomi of Lansing, Law School Scholarship
  • Tierra Love of Grand Rapids, Paralegal/Legal Assistant Scholarship
In addition, four students have received scholarships from Warner Norcross to help them with preparation for the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. This is the tenth year Warner Norcross has offered the program that enables selected minority students at Michigan colleges to attend a study course designed to prepare them for the exam. Studies show those who take the prep course score higher on the test, which determines law school entrance.  The 2017 LSAT Scholarship recipients are:
  • Zachary Francisco, Hope College
  • Tiarra Thompson, Hope College
  • Faten Balawi, Wayne State University
  • Nabintou Doumbia, Wayne State University
Since it began offering scholarships, Warner Norcross has provided more than $170,000 to support programs that encourage minority students to pursue a law career. To date, the scholarships have assisted 80- students.

Warner Norcross established the tuition scholarship fund at Grand Rapids Community Foundation in 1998; the first scholarship was awarded in 2001. The winners were chosen after reviewing essays that summarized the goals and challenges that drew them to the field of law.

For more information on these scholarships you may visit http://www.wnj.com/Careers/Diversity/Minority-Scholarships-and-Applications.

Panel to Discuss Civility in the Civic Arena at Warner Norcross & Judd

Choosing CivilityAs part of its One Book, One Firm discussion of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni, Warner Norcross & Judd will host a panel discussion on Tuesday July 11.  The panel will discuss civility and incivility in the political and civic arenas and how we can respond as citizens and as members of our communities to what most people see as a rising level of incivility.  We have an exceptional panel for this program.  They include:

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss – Rosalynn Bliss became the City of Grand Rapids’ first female Mayor when she took office on January 1, 2016, after serving as a Second Ward City Commissioner for 10 years. Mayor Bliss serves as adjunct professor of social work at Grand Valley State University.

City Commissioner Joe Jones – Joe Jones was appointed a Second Ward Commissioner by the Grand Rapids City Commission to fill the remaining term of Rosalynn Bliss, after she won election as Mayor.  A native of Detroit, Joe has served as President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Urban League for the past six years.

Ken Sikkema – Ken Sikkema served in the Michigan Legislature for 20 years—twelve in the House and eight in the Senate.  He served as Majority Floor Leader and Republican Leader of the Michigan House and Majority Leader in the State Senate.  He served both when his party was in the majority and in the minority, as well as two years when the Michigan House of Representatives was evenly split and the parties shared leadership. Today, Mr. Sikkema is a Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, an independent, non-partisan consulting firm in Lansing.

John Inhulsen – John Inhulsen is Senior Counsel in our Grand Rapids office. He concentrates his practice on corporate, real estate and litigation matters. John served as Chair of the Kent County Republican Party in 2015 and 2016, and prior to that was its Finance Chair.

The panel discussion, which is open to attorneys and staff members at the firm,  will be held in the University Club of Grand Rapids and will be videocast to the firms other seven offices.

Choosing Civility: Escaping our Internet Bubbles

Many people today are lamenting the polarization of our politics.  This is not just an American phenomenon.  The cover story in this week’s Economist Magazine, a British publication, discusses “Britain’s Missing Middle.”  Part of what fuels the polarization today is our ability to choose the sources of our news and create an Internet bubble or echo chamber in which our views are repeated but not challenged.  In 2014, The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of conservatives and liberals to explore this polarization in detail.  Among the findings of the study, which can be found here, were the following:

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

While the Internet enables us to create our own personal bubbles, it also enables us, with little effort, to broaden our sources of news and commentary and perhaps increase our ability to understand better the opinions of those who hold different views than our own.  I recently came across an excellent site for doing just that.  It is AllSides.com.  Allsides presents news stories from the right, the center and the middle.  For example, here is AllSides’ lead story on today’s website:

AllSides

 

I have been using AllSides for the past three weeks and have found it to be an excellent tool for breaking out of my bubble.  You can learn more about AllSides by watching this two-minute video interview AllSides’ founder.

While you are at it, take a look at this TED Talk on “How to Have Better Political Conversations.”  https://www.ted.com/talks/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_political_conversations I think you will find it interesting.

Rodney Martin, Diversity Partner