Together we can be the dream, ABA leaders say

In celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., American Bar Association leaders hosted an office-wide program that underscored the role the ABA community plays in continuing King’s legacy of service and justice. The program, the first in-person MLK program in three years, was held in the Chicago office and via Zoom.

In his 1963 March on Washington speech, King said, “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” Referencing that speech, ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross said, “That is what our work together is all about. Your service ensures, as Dr. King promised, that while our nation may falter in our path to justice, our bank of justice will never go bankrupt if we hold on to hope and never let up on doing what is right and serving justice.”

“He wasn’t simply a man of words,” ABA Executive Director Jack L. Rives said. “He was a man of action. He didn’t just tell others to do certain things. He did not leave the fight to others. He led the charge. He brought about change. Congress passed laws that made a real difference, and we’re seeing them a half-century later.”  

“How do we build a community where I care about you and you care about what happens to me,” Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice Chair Juan R. Thomas asked, noting King’s belief in “the interrelatedness of all communities and states” and that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as he wrote in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail.

“We can’t sit here in Chicago and not care about the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi ... or about what’s happening to people who live in Appalachia or who live in other parts of the country who are suffering,” he said. “It really goes back to seeing each other as our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.”

President-elect Mary Smith, the first Native American female president-elect of the ABA, said that despite King’s dream that everyone would be treated equally, it has not come to fruition. “Unfortunately ... many people still feel like they’re outsiders, still feel like they’re fighting to be included. But I think that was the power of Dr. King. He didn’t look at how things are. He looked at how he wanted things to be. And we all have that power.”