Civil rights pioneer delivers Diversity Day address at Elon Law

Julius Chambers, whose work as a civil rights attorney made school desegregation a reality in Charlotte and many other cities, told prospective law students that the poor and uneducated need advocates to fight on their behalf. Chambers' remarks came during the first Diversity Day at Elon University School of Law on Feb. 9.

Acclaimed civil rights attorney Julius Chambers.

Chambers told the audience of approximately 100 prospective students their intellect and spirit of service are desperately needed in the legal profession today.

“What do you tell the poor, the uneducated, the minorities?” Chambers said. “I’m sorry, there’s nobody who wants to take your case? What do we do for the hundreds, thousands of parents and children who are begging for assistance?”

One of the nation’s most celebrated school desegregation attorneys, Chambers was inspired to become a lawyers after his father was unable to find a lawyer in North Carolina who would help him collect a debt from a white man. It took years, Chambers said, before he began to see others in the profession who shared his skin color.

“When I started, we didn’t have any minority judges, and we didn’t have any dreams that we were going to get any,” Chambers said.

Chambers played a major role in Swann v. Charlotte/Mecklenburg Board of Education, the 1971 case that eventually made Charlotte a national leader in school desegregation. He urged students to set high aspirations for themselves and then set out to achieve their goals.

“Don’t ever sell yourself short or think that you can’t do it,” Chambers said. “Look at those who are doing it and those who have done it.”

Diversity Day, designed primarily for minority students considering law school, included panel presentations from practicing attorneys, judges and current law school students. Prospective students had a chance to visit with representatives from every North Carolina law school and learn about the variety of scholarship and financial aid packages available to law students.

“It was exciting to see so many students who are thinking about law school as an option after college,” said Sharon Gaskin, assistant dean for admissions at Elon law. “We’re especially grateful to the judges, attorneys, law students and faculty who took time out of their busy schedules to share their insights with these prospective law students.”

Panelists who participated are listed below:

Judicial Panel
• Hon. L. Todd Burke, Superior Court Judge, 21st District
• Hon. Denise S. Hartsfield, District Court Judge, 21st District
• Hon. Patrice A. Hinnant, District Court Judge, 18th District
• Hon. A. Leon Stanback, Jr., Superior Court Judge, 14th District
• Hon. Teresa A. Vincent, District Court Judge, 18th District
Moderator: Professor Faith Rivers, Elon University School of Law

Attorney Panel
• Mark Cummings, Gray Johnson Blackmon Lee & Lawson
• Kenneth A. Free, Jr., Knight & Free, PLLC
• Kimberly Bullock Gatling, Smith Moore LLP
• Angela Liverman, Guilford County Deputy Attorney
• Susan Yu O’Hale, Assistant District Attorney, 18th District
• Kelly Thompson, Assistant District Attorney, 18th District
• Lisa Johnson Tonkins, Assistant District Attorney, 18th District
Moderator: Charles Blackmon, Gray Johnson Blackmon Lee & Lawson

Law Student Panel
• Taren Greenidge, Duke Law, Class of 2010
• David Morrow, Elon Law, Class of 2010
• George Scott, Charlotte Law, Class of 2009
• Vanessa Williams, North Carolina Central Law, Class of 2009
• Ada Wilson, University of North Carolina Law, Class of 2010
Moderator: Nichelle Harrison, Elon Law, Class of 2009