Bryant A. Andrews
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black history month is about education and celebration.
Education is twofold: 1) learning about critical Black figures, movements, and traditions which have contributed to, changed, and advanced American culture; and 2) unlearning implicit biases and racist thinking rooted in America’s history of slavery, oppression, discrimination, and terrorism against Black people.
Celebration arises as a natural byproduct of education. Learning about the accomplishments of the Black community (especially, in the face of tremendous intentional and implicit discrimination), fosters a sense of pride, empowerment, and hope, all of which culminate in a spirit of celebration.
What do you find inspirational about Black History Month?
I am inspired to see that as a people, Black Americans have survived (and thrived) in spite of seemingly insurmountable oppression, human rights violations, and a steady lack of access to equal opportunity.
Who is your Black hero or role model and why?
My Black role model is Bryan Stevenson: a public interest lawyer, social justice activist, and the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson is also the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. His work in all of these fields inspires me to know that I, today, individually, can effectuate real change in the midst of so much racial injustice. Other role models include Malcolm X and Billie Holiday.
What is your favorite Black character from a movie, TV show, or book and why?
My favorite Black character is Aibileen Clark (played by Viola Davis) in the movie “The Help.” Her character demonstrates breathtaking bravery and boldness in undermining White supremacy in 1960’s Mississippi by cataloguing her often humiliating and dehumanizing experiences caring for a White family.
What movie, TV show, or book would you recommend to someone who wants to be a better ally to African-Americans?
I recommend people of any and every background watch “13th,” a 2016 documentary that chronicles the history oppression against Blacks in America by exploring how slavery has been preserved and has evolved through mechanisms in the 13th Amendment that at first glance appear to abolish slavery.
What advice would you give to a young African American lawyer just starting out in their career?
Mentors are everything. Categorically, you are smart, hardworking, a planner, and a critical thinker. All of these are necessary to be a successful attorney, and you already have them — you would not have completed law school and passed the bar exam without them. What will determine your long-term success, then, are the mentors you partner yourself with. A good mentor will value your entire life, not just your professional life, and will go out of their way to put you in front of key decision makers and opportunities.
What advice would you give legal employers about what they can do to make workplaces welcoming and supportive for Black lawyers?
Making workplaces feel more supportive for Black lawyers again goes back to education and training. Law firm leadership and White colleagues must take it upon themselves (and not rely on their half a dozen-or-so Black attorneys alone) to gain awareness about issues that impact the Black community. There are so many microaggressions and implicitly biased statements made in the workplace that White colleagues do not even realize create an unwelcoming environment for Black lawyers. For example, White colleagues have made comments to me like: “Bryant, you can be a role model to other Black people who just don’t get it;” “My parents and I grew up poor, I don’t know anything about white privilege;” “no one in my family has ever owned slaves, so I’m good;” “slavery happened so long ago, Black people need to move on;” “Jewish people were slaves once, look how they are thriving, why are Black people still so far behind?” and “You don’t know this rap song? I guess I’m Blacker than you!” In my experience, the colleagues making these statements mean no malice or harm — which underscores how little they understand about American history, Black history, what it means to be Black, and the intentional policies, laws, and systems that have (and continue to) disenfranchised and devalued Black bodies.