Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Okoye Morgan Jr.’s elementary school teachers thought he had a little too much energy.
After he disrupted the class one too many times, a clinical psychologist was brought in. Her conclusion: Morgan was very smart but had processing issues. He learned quickly and became bored. On her recommendations, he was moved into a gifted program but would need an individual educational plan with accommodations.
“My parents taught me to advocate to teachers that, ‘Hey, I may need more time on tests, or I may need to reread this paragraph again,’” says Morgan, who went on to become founder and general counsel of The Black Law Company in Tampa, Florida.
As a kid, those skills spilled over to fighting other kids’ injustices. “If people would pick on people who were disabled, that’s something that runs my temperature hot because they are defenseless,” he says. “They are oftentimes in positions where they can’t protect themselves. So how dare we take advantage of those groups?”
But as a youth, Morgan didn’t see role models who showed him how to make a living while helping people. In cartoons, television and books, people who looked like him were athletes, rappers or entertainers. Lawyers in stories were almost never Black and almost always cast in a negative light.
Along his journey to law, that lack of role models stuck with Morgan, now a member of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division who serves on the Commission on Youth at Risk. Over time, he has been motivated to seek out mentors for himself as well as to find ways to inspire Black youngsters to become attorneys. He’s done so by writing an illustrated book for kids. Morgan was also a speaker at an event for singer-songwriter Usher’s New Look nonprofit, which is focused on underserved youth.
“It’s been my goal to try to change the imagery of what attorneys look like to kids,” Morgan says.
His ultimate goal is to change policies that impact people of color—and that requires having more Black attorneys. “You have to have people at the table whose rights were violated, were not heard [and] who were looked over to be able to have systemic change—because they’ve been the greatest beneficiaries of the wrongfulness of how some of the laws and policies have played out in America,” he adds.