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Black Law Students Association Banquet
Feb. 28, 2019
University of Maryland, Baltimore
Good evening. I’m so honored to be with you tonight for this celebration of legal scholarship, service, and activism. I’ve admired the work of BLSA for many years. I’ve admired your advocacy on important issues of equity and opportunity—both in the bar and in the communities you serve.
You know, I was honored to be at this banquet last year, and those of you who were here will remember the theme. It was the “Elephant in the Room.” The theme was inspired by the national epidemic of police shootings, by our wholly inadequate discussion of deep racial tensions in this country—tensions that are literally killing people of color.
I think there’s another elephant in the room as we gather this year, and that’s an unconscionable deficit of leaders on the national stage interested in unity, justice, and service, leaders who are animated by what you so eloquently call our duty to uplift others.
But in recent days and months, I’ve wondered how much this deficit really matters. Because I’ve seen something else that gives me great hope. I’ve seen young people—children—demand that they not be hunted in their own schools. I’ve seen women demand an end to sexual harassment and assault—and a culture that—for so long—blithely permitted both. I’ve seen this nation’s Black community demand that we recognize their humanity—that in our systems and policies we accept the achingly simple premise that Black Lives Matter.
I’ve seen the bravery of people like you who have dared to speak truth to power. And—gratefully—I’ve seen you become the power yourselves.
You are the leaders we’ll look to on issues of civil rights and social justice, of fairness and accountability, of equal treatment under the law. You are the leaders who will deliver the justice and the hope and the unity we’re after. You are the people whose courage and compassion will uplift others.
For all of this, I thank you. And I congratulate tonight’s worthy honorees.