Archive for the ‘Race Relations’ Category.

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


 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.

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

Dr. Anna-Lisa Cox To Discuss Her Book “A Stronger Kinship” at Warner Norcross & Judd

Dr. Anna-Lisa CoxHistorian Dr. Anna-Lisa Grace Cox will be our guest at a luncheon on Friday, April 24 to discuss her book A Stronger Kinship. StongerKinshipIn the years following the Civil War, the nation struggled to redefine the relationship between European Americans and African Americans. After the Civil War, legislatures in Southern states passed “Black Codes” aimed at limiting the rights of African Americans. The era spawned the birth of Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. The repression of former slaves, however, was not limited to the south. Northern states also had adopted laws limiting the civil rights of African Americans prior to the Civil War. Many of those laws remained on the books following the war. In 1867, for example, voters in Michigan turned down a proposed state constitution that would have allowed African Americans to vote. It was not until 1883 that Michigan repealed its ban on interracial marriages.

There was one community in Michigan, however, in which African Americans and white Americans lived together in a culture of respect and equality. The story of Covert, Michigan, as told by Dr. Cox in A Stronger Kinship, is a tale of how a small Midwestern town looked beyond race to create an inclusive community. African Americans attended the same schools and churches as whites. They belonged to the same social clubs, such as the Grange. African American farmers and business people thrived and became prominent employers of white workers in the community. They married whites. African Americans were elected by white voters to key positions such as the Highway Commissioner and Justice of the Peace.

How could this happen? What made this possible? These are some of the questions Dr. Cox will address when she speaks to our firm on Friday, April 24. Dr. Cox is a Non Resident Fellow at Harvard’s Hutchins Center where she is at work on a research project with Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., on African American pioneers to the antebellum frontier. She also holds the position of Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where her research is underpinning a permanent exhibit.

The 2014 One Book, One Firm Selection: Branch Rickey

Branch RickeyEach year in our One Book, One Firm program, we select a book relating to diversity and inclusion and encourage everyone in the firm to read and discuss it.  In addition, we prepare a recommended reading list for other books you might enjoy reading this summer. Also, this year we have created a One Book, One Firm website with additional information. This email will fill you in on the 2014 One Book, One Firm program.

The 2014 One Book, One Firm Selection

This year’s One Book, One Firm selection is Branch Rickey, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jimmy Breslin. Branch Rickey, a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, brought many innovations to the game of baseball, including the farm system. Breslin’s short, easy to read biography, however, focuses on the story of Rickey’s role in breaking the color barrier in Major League baseball.

Rickey’s commitment to integrate Major League Baseball grew out of an incident involving Charles Thomas, an African American teammate of Rickey’s on the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team. Rickey would remember that incident for years, eventually deciding to do something about the injustice he saw. Years before Jackie Robinson would ultimately join Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey committed to integrating Major League baseball. He began scouting Negro League baseball teams to find a player with the talent and the character to break the color barrier. In Robinson, he found the perfect man, and together they changed America’s game.

Warner Norcross Partner Mary Jo Larson Honored By Leadership Detroit

Mary Jo Larson, a partner with the law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, is among a group of Leadership Detroit graduates who were honored earlier this month as “emerging leaders” at the 2012 Leadership Detroit Awards.

The award is the first ever made to a group and recognizes its members for continuing the work they began during their Leadership Detroit program to overcome racial lines in the city.  Normally Leadership Detroit programs end once the Leadership Detroit session itself concludes.

Larson, who concentrates her practice in employee benefits and executive compensation, is one of nine members of the group to earn the Emerging Leadership Award, which recognizes Leadership Detroit alumni who epitomize the spirit of lifelong leadership and community involvement.

Larson is recognized in Best Lawyers in America and Michigan Super Lawyers, which named her as one of the Top 50 Women Michigan Super Lawyers for the past four years.   She is also listed as a Top Lawyer in Employee Benefits by dbusiness magazine.

Larson is a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and a fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel.  She serves on the board of Forgotten Harvest and is active in teaching and lecturing.

“The Loving Story”

Several people from the firm recently joined many others from Grand Rapids at the premiere of a new HBO documentary “The Loving Story.” Richard and Mildred Loving were married in 1958 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Richard was white, Mildred was African American and Native American. Days after they were married, the local sheriff broke in their door at 3:00 a.m. and arrested them in their bedroom for violating Virginia’s law against interracial marriage. They were convicted and banished from the Commonwealth.

“The Loving Story” is a beautiful documentary by a filmmaker from Grand Rapids that tells the story of the Lovings and their historic court battle to live together in their home as husband and wife. The film is pieced together from wonderful video shot in the 50s and 60s that brings the Lovings to life.   In its review, Variety said:

What astonishes in Buirski’s docu is not just the quantity and quality of the black-and-white 16mm footage, but its unpressured candor, particularly in the harsh light of current media feeding frenzies. While Richard Loving registers as clearly uncomfortable in the public spotlight, Mildred treats the lawyers, the reporters and all comers with the same friendly, casual articulateness and serene lack of self-consciousness with which she might greet a neighbor. The Lovings’ unprepossessing affection, evident in every frame of their homemovies, forms a perfect intimate counterpoint to the historical upheaval and ultimate rendering of justice.

HBO will air “The Loving Story” for the first time on Valentine’s Day, February 14. 

You can learn more about “The Loving Story” by visiting its homepage at