Speech By Dennis Archer Upon Receipt Of MCCA’s Lifetime Achievement Award At MCCA Gala – September 11

Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 15:47



Tom Sager – what an honor to receive this award from a stalwart leader, activist, and committed brother in the law who has, through your sheer force of gentlemanly presence, made it possible for lawyers of color and women to advance within our legal profession.

I want to thank your president and CEO, Joe West, and his right arm, Jennifer Chen, and the MCCA Board of Directors for choosing me to follow one of my heroes, Vernon Jordan.  There was never a time when I reached out for Vernon Jordan’s help to advance diversity and inclusion that he did not answer the call with a “yes, where do you need me.” 

I want to thank those who you saw in the video introduction for their kind words recalling my efforts to make a difference.  Judge Damon J. Keith gave me my first legal job as a law clerk after my first year of law school, Ron Hall, chairman/CEO of Bridgewater Interiors and my classmate at Western Michigan University and Alpha fraternity brother.

I would not be here tonight without the person who encouraged and caused me to understand why I should consider law school and the practice of law as a profession, my wife of 45 years, Trudy DunCombe Archer, who herself, after I became a lawyer, followed in her grandfather’s footsteps, became a lawyer and then a judge.  Our two sons, Dennis W. Archer Jr. and Vincent DunCombe Archer, who sacrificed going to any college or university in the United States, so that I would become a member of the Michigan Supreme Court.  They, however, did go to the University of Michigan.

One does not achieve success without others, Ben Wilson, John Daniels, and Black Minority Partners Network, throughout the country, who are just as committed and willing to take appropriate action where a wrong policy needs to be adjusted, modified, or connected, as does Dr. Lorna Thomas at the Detroit Medical Center, now Vanguard.

Such was the case, 1987-88, with Vice President, Corporate Secretary and General Counsel Steven Middlebrook of Aetna, Roy Richie of Chrysler and Harry Pearce of General Motors, who blasted open the doors of equal opportunities for lawyers of color in the law firms, law school tenure track professors, judicial law clerks, etc. within our legal profession in the late 1980s.

I learn more each day from the general counsel of Compuware, MASCO, whose general counsel with six others is here tonight, and Johnson Controls, whose general counsel, Jerry Okarma, is also here.  Johnson Controls is a member of the Billion Dollar Roundtable which allows me to promote the economic necessity of Diversity and Inclusion.

Cora Walker was an unselfish lawyer in the National Bar Association who introduced her corporate clients to members of the NBA, who wanted to represent corporate America.  We have three other former National Bar presidents here this evening:  Paulette Brown, Harold Pope and Reginald Turner.  From the American Bar Association we have former president Steve Zack and president-elect James Silkenat.

Finally, to all who are present, thank you on behalf of the babies who are being born each day, as the U.S. Census Department has confirmed, the majority of the babies born today in America are babies of color, and between 2015 and 2019, those who are 18 years or younger will be majority children of color.

Thank all of you for allowing them to know that they can be contributing, successful Americans without limitation because you believe as I do – they should have an equal opportunity to compete.

Dennis Archer, former Chair of Dickinson Wright PLLC, was the first person of color to be  chair of the American Bar Association as well as president of the State Bar of Michigan. He also served as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, president of the Wolverine and National Bar Associations, mayor of Detroit, Michigan, president of the National League of Cities and chairman of the Board of the Detroit Regional Chamber. He is currently CEO of Dennis W. Archer PLLC and chair emeritus of Dickinson Wright.