You started teaching at Loyola School of Law in fall 1989. Who inspired you in the early days?
I came in at the time Norman Amaker was on the faculty. I spent ten years under the stewardship of Norman, [who had done] groundbreaking work with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and represented scores of civil rights activists who were arrested and harassed by the police, including Dr. King. Norman also argued critical civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. He was a legend, and it was my honor to be mentored by him. I try to sustain his values here at Loyola well into the 21st century.
You’ve been the faculty advisor to Loyola’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) for more than 30 years. What makes it so fulfilling?
I’m a big believer in mentoring and finding ways to give back. There are people who’ve touched my life along the way who made it possible for me to be in the places where I was, and I’ll always have a deep and abiding gratitude for the generosity of spirit. And I’ve tried to emulate them by paying it forward.
I encourage our alumni to find ways to give to the students. We’ve had so many graduates do that. For example, the BLSA Thurgood Marshall trial program. We’ve had alumni come back and mentor our students. Loyola has some of the best competition programs in the country, partly because of our strong alumni involvement.
What are some unique ways you teach students?
I joke to the students about lawyers being steppers—stepping as the form of dance music that’s particularly popular on the South Side that involves some intricate steps. But like all dancing, you have to do the right step at the right time.
For example, when a judge is about to go into an argument and he’s looking through a brief, you have to remember that the judge has countless other cases and it might be an area of the law that the judge hasn’t seen for a number of years. So you don’t write the brief in a way that assumes the judge knows everything. You start with step one and go through all the various steps at the most basic level. You explain the facts. You explain the law and the application of the law in ways so that a busy judge who might only have two minutes to skim your brief before a court session sees the essence of your argument. I think that’s a skill all good lawyers have to have, and it’s a skill I take seriously. By using what I call the step method, students understand the whole process of the law much better.
What is your proudest moment at Loyola?
Loyola established a named professorship in honor of Nathaniel R. Jones Jr., and I was named a Nathaniel R. Jones Jr. professor. He was a civil rights luminary who worked on a number of famous cases, including Milliken v. Bradley, which [was about] promoting genuine integration in American schools.
If you look at American education now, it’s still largely segregated. There are a few pockets here and there where you might have a school with genuine levels of integration, but at a number of schools, however, the presence of people of color is only token…which makes it all the more important that we create a diverse atmosphere here at Loyola.
Law school can be the first time students have interacted with people with other backgrounds in significant numbers, so you can get the sort of exchange that’s needed in a great law school, that’s needed in a great society. People get to know each other as human beings. I’m still a big believer that that’s one of the best ways to stifle racism, even when racism is systemic and institutional and structural. When people understand the history, when they know human beings from different backgrounds, then when they get in these institutions, they have the tools they will need to change those institutions to be more genuinely inclusive. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Loyola.
What excites you most about being at Loyola at this moment?
What excites me most about being at Loyola in this moment is the change we made to our mission statement to show the earnestness of our commitment to being an anti-racist law school. It will call on all of us to broaden our horizons, broaden our thinking, and open our minds—and I’m really excited.