Lawyers and the legal system are the keys to fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream, a retired federal appeals court judge and civil- rights advocate told lawyers, judges, high school students and other guests at the annual Law Day Luncheon.
“It is the law and lawyers who have the means of facilitating the process for converting dreams into reality — the reality that we come to call equality,” Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, a Youngstown native and retired judge of the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, told the audience at the Mahoning County Bar Association event at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Hall.
The theme of Wednesday’s event was “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.”
Judge Jones, who resides in Cincinnati, said he was in attendance at Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, whose 50th anniversary will be observed this summer.
“There is a price to be paid by individuals and, indeed, nations, if we don’t convert dreams into reality,” Judge Jones said.
“This nation has a history of deferring dreams and having to contend with dreams that were unrealized and which exploded,” he added.
As an example, he cited the urban violence of the 1960s, which he said occurred because minority group members believed their dignity wasn’t being respected and their dreams and aspirations were not being realized.
“So deeply has the American dream sunk its roots in the soil and the soul of this nation, that it has secured the status of a moral covenant — a moral covenant which binds all Americans,” Judge Jones said.
“Lives have been spurred by dreams, which, with the positive use of the law, have brought equality to those from whom it was once withheld. And that task today remains to be completed,” he said.
Judge Jones cited two local examples of progress toward the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream.
Judge Benita Pearson, an African American, is now the U.S. District Court judge in Youngstown, he noted. When he began his legal career in the 1950s, Judge Jones said he would not have dreamed that he would live to see the day that an African American woman would become a federal judge in Youngstown.
“That’s indicative of the changes that have taken place in this country and certainly in this community,” he said.
Although it bears only his name, Judge Jones also said the U.S. Bankruptcy Court building in Youngstown is “a tangible manifestation” of the dreams and aspirations of many. “It is a symbol of the dreams of millions of persons who dreamed of freedom, strove for it, and remained on the road to help others achieve it,” he said.
Coincidentally, the U.S. General Services Administration announced Wednesday that the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse here is one of 15 GSA-operated buildings that met top energy-saving benchmarks in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Energy Star National Building Competition by reducing energy consumption by at least 20 percent.
Honored at the luncheon were local high school student winners of the bar association’s 2013 essay contest: Ryan Slavik, Struthers, first place; Kaitlin McClendon, Boardman, second; Jordan Unger, Struthers, third; Donnie Haid, Western Reserve High School, fourth; Jacklynn Choma, Austintown Fitch, fifth; and Madison Handy, Sebring, and Jocelyn Hykes, Austintown Fitch, tied for sixth.