A public service project spearheaded by the Memphis Bar Association Young Lawyers Division was so impressive that the group of attorneys took home a first-place “Service to the Public” award and was recognized for “outstanding activities” at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting this month.
Accepting the recognition from the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division were two associate attorneys with the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC: Kyle Wiggins, the MBA YLD’s immediate past president, and former MBA YLD president Stacie Winkler.
For their award-winning public service project, they put a simple question to about 100 Memphis-area high school students: “What sacrifices are you willing to make for a cause you believe in?”
It was an essay contest conducted during the 2010 fall semester and involved students from Ridgeway and Douglass high schools. It was called the YLD’s “They had a dream, too” essay contest, born out of the notion that many of the struggles of the civil rights era were endured by young people, whose contributions are sometimes overlooked.
That initiative was sponsored by the MBA YLD, Memphis City Schools, the Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Mid-South and the ABA’s section of individual rights and responsibilities.
Cash prizes were awarded to the essay winners, who read their works during a program at the National Civil Rights Museum.
“In October 2009, I was preparing to become the MBA YLD president, and I traveled to the ABA fall meeting in Birmingham to sort of kick off my year and network and collaborate,” Wiggins said.
He said the ABA YLD president at the time had rolled out a public service program focused on young leaders of the civil rights movement. A roughly 20-minute video was put together that focused on those leaders and the contributions they made.
“It was a really powerful DVD. It was very inspiring and moving,” Wiggins said. “And the local and state affiliates were charged with developing some sort of public service project around it.”
Some affiliates took that DVD into schools to screen it. From that was born the local essay contest. A committee of local attorneys picked a few winners from three classes at both schools.
Students were taken to the civil rights museum for a panel discussion, and the DVD was shown in the museum’s auditorium.
Prize money for the contest was provided through a donation by the Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Mid-South. Additional assistance for the culminating program came from the ABA section of individual rights and responsibilities, with input from U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald.
Wiggins said attorneys involved thought the program made a difference and that they were “really pleased with the feedback we got from the kids.” They also were pleased with the results of participation, which include this excerpt from a winning essay by Ridgeway student Sashae Taylor.
“I believe that I could sacrifice for a cause, and I would be willing to sacrifice because whatever I am sacrificing would not be as important as the cause I am sacrificing for,” Taylor wrote. “I often volunteer for causes sponsored by the Green Club at my school and my church. The biggest sacrifices I could make that could be beneficial to causes are giving up some of my old behaviors, devoting my time and letting go of fear. Sacrifices are necessary because without them there would be no change.”