The Law Alumni of Color Association began “out of a sense of urgency, out of an idea that community could trump sexism, could trump racism,” current LACA President Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II ’00 said at the group’s annual spring dinner on April 6. Addressing the alumni, current and admitted students, faculty, and administrators who had gathered to celebrate LACA’s 40th anniversary, Id-Din urged the audience to consider the important issues affecting communities of color today, including police violence, anti-immigration policies, and other “injustices that are inflicted upon our community, day after day, year after year.”

Over the course of the evening, the group honored the alumni and faculty, past and present, who have been leaders and inspirations in LACA. Judge Charles Swinger Conley ’55, who was Alabama’s first black judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Macon County, was posthumously honored with the Arthur T. Vanderbilt Award—the Law School’s highest honor for graduates. Prior to serving as a judge, Conley played a significant role in the civil rights movement, representing movement leaders including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. His widow, Ellen Conley, accepted the award on his behalf.Charles Swinger Conley ’55

Also recognized at the dinner was the late Professor Derrick Bell, whose work in civil rights, racial reform, and critical race theory continues to serve as an example for the Law School community today. In introducing a short tribute video, Lisa Marie Boykin ’95, one of Bell’s former students, spoke of the importance of his mentorship in her life: “I would not have gone to NYU Law, I would not be a lawyer if it were not for Derrick.”

In receiving the LACA Founders Award, Betty Staton ’79, president of Brooklyn Legal Services and former judge of the New York State Family Court, recalled founding the alumni group in 1978 alongside Judge Barry Cozier ’75, Ruth Gordon ’80, Joanne Johnson ’79, Wendy Scott ’80, and Judge Barry Stevens ’78. “Today, we celebrate what started with five law students and a leadership team of forward-thinking and dedicated alumni. But tonight would not be possible without the work of all the leaders that followed,” Staton said. “The entire LACA family is proud as we celebrate 40 years of history in the making.”

Damaris Hernandez ’07, recipient of the LACA 40 under 40 Rising Star award, reflected on her journey from being the first member of her family to graduate from college to becoming the first Latina partner at Cravath, Swaine, & Moore: “It is our responsibility to effect change in the spheres where we have power now,” she said.

For Professor Troy McKenzie ’00, the recipient of the LACA Faculty Award, the opportunity to effect change is through his students: “I do know that the greatest influence I can have on this profession and on this world is by teaching the students every day that I encounter here,” McKenzie said.

Jennifer Ching ’00, executive director of the North Star Fund and recipient of the 40th Anniversary Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, emphasized the importance of listening to the voices of those who do not have power and encouraged the LACA community to continue to raise those voices up and help others hear them. “It’s an amazing privilege to listen to so many lived experiences, and to be changed because an individual’s perception of justice can alter our own sense of what is possible,” said Ching. “So be radical listener. And when you listen… allow yourself to change.”

Posted April 18, 2018