For many people, the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a part of a long ago history, and as we approach the 50 year anniversary of this speech, we’ll be reminded of how much time has passed since the August 28, 1963 march on Washington. But a vital, living representative of those times is here in the Bay among us–and I recently had the pleasure of meeting him and hearing him speak. His name is Dr. Clarence B. Jones and he co-authored the “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. Jones is a lawyer, professor, advocate and author. His two books, What Would Martin Say and Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation, will enlighten and inspire you and give you a sense of what it would be like to be the friend and confidante of one of the leading figures in American history.
On February 4, 2013, I attended a “Remembering Our Roots” program at UC Davis law school organized by a very talented third year law student, Fabiola Larios, in conjunction with Black History Month. After an introduction by law school dean Kevin Johnson, Dr. Jones stood tall at the podium and then….he began to sing. He sang a few lines from three freedom songs of the ’60s to “set the tone.” He then proceeded to share the story of how he met Martin Luther King, Jr., and was conscripted into service as his lawyer, speechwriter and advisor. He spoke for 40 minutes and, after comments by law school professor emeritus and former Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso (which were also inspiring and powerful!), Dr. Jones participated in a question and answer session.
A law student asked him what drives him (subtext: why aren’t you retired?) and Dr. Jones replied that it’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years and that he is, however, blessed with longevity. He’s 82 years old. And he went on to say he has a moral imperative to continue to teach, write and speak and address issues related to racial inequality and poverty in our country. He said this is what Martin would expect him to do. Wow.
His comment made me wonder: What’s my moral imperative and what am I doing to fulfill that moral imperative?
We here at the ACBA hope to host an event with Dr. Clarence Jones in the near future. The State Bar of California, through the diversity work of the Council on Access and Fairness staffed by Patricia D. Lee, will host an event with Dr. Jones as part of the State Bar Annual Meeting in October in San Jose. Many thanks to Judge Gordon Baranco for turning me on to my latest inspiration!
–Ann Wassam, ACBA Executive Director