April 7, 2016
Fifty Years Ago...
An Open Letter to Friends and Colleagues:
Fifty years ago this country, and this firm, was a very different place. The Cold War raged. There was no Civil Rights Act. There was no Voting Rights Act. Racial and class tensions were at a fever pitch. And so there was a March. Fish & Richardson had no Washington office nor did it have any African-American attorneys, Asian or Asian-American attorneys, female attorneys, or outwardly LGBT attorneys. There was a single Jewish attorney.
Fifty years ago this country, and this firm, was also in many ways the same place. The spark that ignited the call to action then was Emmitt Till; now it is Trayvon Martin. Where there was the tail end of McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee, there is the leading end of WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden saga. Where then veterans of the Korean conflict were struggling to assimilate back into society and overcome what we now know as PTSD, today veterans of Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom are doing the same. Fish & Richardson was a well-known, first-rate law firm with a long history at the vanguard of intellectual property law. And Bob Hillman had been here for just over two years.
Fifty years ago on this day, what has been called “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our Nation” occurred in Washington. Though a disproportionate number of attendees were African-American, this was by no means an African-American event. It was an event for all of us. And in what has become the iconic moment of that historic day, a 34-year-old Baptist preacher from my alma mater delivered a speech a sermon, really about a dream he had. Though as a youngster I was aware of the I Have A Dream speech and its impact, I did not first hear it until my junior year of high school because hyperlinks, like the one I just used (and strongly commend to you), were not yet around.
When I finally heard it some 25 years after it first had been delivered, it moved me in a way that I could not ever have imagined. Yet, what moved me even more was something that I did not learn until over a decade later: Dr. King’s “dream” was never part of the original speech. The Baptist preacher had done as many are wont to do, and gone off-script. In arguably the defining and most important moment of his life, during what was undeniably this country’s greatest movement of that century, at the height of it all he had eschewed convention, tossed aside the plan, and spoken a truth to power that he believed so profound that it ultimately cost him his life.
Were he alive today, the preacher might well say that he was being led by the Spirit. I believe that; I am a testament to that. But no matter your faith, or background, or calling, each one of us receiving this message can be thankful for the fruits of that effort and for those that sacrificed, suffered and died in pursuit of that Dream. We, no doubt as collective beneficiaries of that effort, can honor its legacy by not forgetting and by paying it forward in our personal and professional lives. We rise because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. King famously said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On this day, commemorate The March by taking a moment to give thanks for what we have and then considering what we can do, individually and collectively, to continue to advance the causes of diversity, inclusion, justice and peace. And when the moment demands, do not be afraid to eschew convention, toss aside the plan, go off-script and speak truth to power.
Fifty years from now, our children and grandchildren will be glad that we did.
Ahmed J. Davis
National Chair, Firm Diversity Initiative
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