By Edwin Buggage
The National Bar Association
The National Bar Association (NBA) is the largest and oldest organization of Black lawyer’s judges and law students in the country. Since 1925 it has a long and storied history with many of its members leading the charge and being on the forefront of the struggle advocating for full enfranchisement of African-Americans.
“We represent a network of over 65,00 members across the country and we were founded in 1925 in response to the fact that back then Black lawyers were not allowed to join the American Bar Association. Since that time, the NBA has been on the forefront of advancing issues of civil rights and social justice which many our members have fought for such as Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston, who were members of the National Bar Association. Our members have been part of the transformation of building bridges of inclusiveness for the last 93 years,” says current National Bar Association President Juan Thomas.
An Agenda of Black Empowerment and Social Justice
Recently, New Orleans was the site of their annual convention where they covered a host of issues facing Black America. Thomas says the discussions focused on, “Economic empowerment, social justice, the future of HBCU Law Schools, and the need to change the prosecutorial system and how we elect prosecutors. In addition to Criminal Justice Reform, Law and Technology and advancing the need for more diversity in tech and to educate the community about their voting rights in the 2018 mid-term elections coming up in November.”
In recent years, the shootings of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and countless others, planted the seeds for the formation of Black Lives Matter and demands for reforms in the Criminal Justice System. NBA President Thomas says the National Bar Association is working hard on the problem of the killing of unarmed Black men by law enforcement, or those who take the law in their own hands and using the controversial Stand your Ground Law as a defense which was used to acquit George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin Case.
Speaking further on some of the work some of the members are doing he says, “We have Paul Butler, a law professor at Georgetown and legal analyst who appears on several network new programs, who has done a lot of work in this area. We are also discussing the need for more progressive community minded prosecutors. But too often, Civil Rights Advocates on the left don’t want to become prosecutors. But this is where Criminal Justice Reform begins, because they have a lot of power and discretion in how they prosecute and try cases and who they charge and who they don’t charge.
Continuing he says, “We have to move to a point where Black people are not charged for crimes that White people are not charged for, but unfortunately, around the country you see a lot of that. We are working with the ACLU, focusing on how our community can help to elect more progressive minded prosecutors. Also, to identify and nurture talent and get them to run for these offices and get them elected.”
Racism and the Law: Fighting the Obama Backlash
When the country elected Barack Obama as the first African-American President in 2008, there were those who spoke of a post-racial America. This was a far cry from the reality back then and most definitely it is now as you see a backlash by a segment of the population who use race as a fault-line defining their politics.
Something that is closer to the historical reality when you look at America’s racial history that has shown when Blacks or minorities gain that the response of some Whites have been nativism, racism, xenophobia that goes a s far back as reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement and now in the post- Obama era. And many of these manifestations of racial animus find its way to the courts changing public policy and, in some instances, placing legal restrictions on African-Americans.
“Part of our legislative agenda is working on the restoration of the Voting Rights Act that was gutted in the Shelby Decision, work with congress to prohibit states from changing voting laws that in our opinion suppress the vote. We are also working on combating voter suppression around the country educating voters about their legal rights and what they need to know about voting because different states have different laws around voter ID and voter requirements. We want do our job to let voters know what their rights are in different states around the country.”
The Legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston: Identifying Today Social Engineers
The challenges America is facing in this age of racial resentment under the current administration in the nation’s capital has become a Clarion Call to resume the fight for justice, equality and fairness. It has stoked the fire renewing and reinvigorating the spirit of past leaders in the legal profession such as; Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Ogletree and Leon Higginbotham, moving the race forward. Today the question is who are filling these large shoes in the legal fights many African-Americans face?
Talking about this call to arms and how the National Bar Association is responding Thomas says, “We have many community of lawyers that are part of my generation being born in 1970 just after the 1960’s era of Civil Rights. There’s Donald Temple in D.C. that is working with young lawyers, making them social engineers. There’s Ben Crump, who was the attorney for Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. He is one of our past NBA Presidents. It is important that there are lawyers out here doing this work. And one of my themes for my colleagues this year is we have to be the conscious of the nation because this is a critical time for our country. I believe there is a crisis of conscious, character and competence we are seeing in Washington right now.”
The Struggle Continues: NBA Works with Generation Next
The struggle for justice and equality for African-Americans has not been a sprint, but a relay race; where the renewing of the commitment to fight for justice has to be taken on by the next generation. The National Bar Association is dedicated to mentoring young lawyers and exposing young people to consider getting involved in careers in the legal profession.
“We work with our young lawyers’ division and we work with our young law students. We have the Crump Law Camp bringing in high school students from around the country for a two-week summer program where we introduce them to the legal profession at Howard University. It is named in honor of our former Executive Director John Crump, who retired in 2009 -2010 and that has been one of our signature programs that’s reaching out to young people. We at the National Bar Association continue to be dedicated to our mission to serve our community and the legal challenges we face as a people.”