Darrell E. Jordan
Diversity must be a top priority for the ABA. No single issue is more important to our profession, and to ensuring respect and support for our justice sys-tem than to have our bench and bar reflect the strength of our nation’s diversity. My own views on racial and ethnic diversity are rooted in events that deeply impacted me at an early age.
I grew up in McAllen, Texas, where my family moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota, shortly after the end of World War II. We relocated because my father was hired as the Executive Director of the first YMCA in south Texas. McAllen is in the Rio Grande Valley, seven miles from the border with Mexico. Back then it had a population of about 20,000 people; approximately 60 percent were Hispanic, approximately 40 percent were white, and less than 1 percent were African American or of another race. Anglos owned most of the businesses. Most of the professionals—the lawyers, doctors, bankers, school administrators, etc.—also were Anglo.
The city of McAllen provided a large swimming pool on the outskirts of town to the new YMCA, and a building to house offices and meeting rooms was to be built nearby. We arrived in the summer (I was the oldest of five children and would enter the third grade in the fall). My dad was very surprised to find that the pool had a posted schedule that allowed Anglos to swim on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday set aside for use by Hispanics and others. It was closed on Monday. This offended my father and, of course, would not do for a YMCA. So my dad immediately changed the policy, making the pool available for everyone who wanted to use it during each day it was open.
While I was a little too young to remember everything that happened, I do remember a real furor, including rotten grapefruit and oranges thrown at our house and people driving by and honking and cussing my father in loud voices. I even learned a new word— communist—from one recalcitrant who upbraided him for insisting there would be no form of discrimination at the YMCA facility he managed.
All the while my dad remained very calm. Each Sunday we attended a different church, where he would explain the policy of the YMCA and why he would not tolerate anything but equal access to the pool for anyone who wanted to belong to the "Y." I remember being very proud of him. The situation was diffused in a few months and the citizens of McAllen came to accept this new order in their daily lives.
I left McAllen over 40 years ago, but when I have occasion to go back, every once in a while someone remembers my father and his courageous stand in a bygone era. He endured rudeness, insults, and worse in order to establish the first YMCA deep in the tip of Texas, but it was worth it. For me, it was part of what my dad taught me about how to treat people, what is right, what is wrong, and what is fair.
Since McAllen I have tried to carry on my father’s ideals. As president-elect of the Dallas Bar, I created the Sarah Hughes Diversity Fellowship at Southern Methodist University Law School (SMU). Since 1982, 19 minority law students have received full scholarships (tuition and books, living allowance, and a summer clerkship) at SMU; 16 have graduated, and three are currently enrolled. I also undertook the pro bono representation of four Texas law schools, including SMU, in their efforts to support the University of Texas Law School in its appeal of Hopwood v. University of Texas (78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), by filing an application to file an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit. And I have actively recruited, hired, and mentored lawyers from many racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Watching my father taught me another valuable lesson. Many of us speak of diversity and truly believe it is a basic goal, but we don’t make changes in our practices or lives to accomplish it. We can’t wait on someone else to make it happen. The profession and our society will appreciate diversity only when we work individually to make it a reality in our law firms, the courts, our bar associations, the ABA sections and committees—in the real trenches of the profession. We have a long way to go, but I believe a diverse profession can be a reality.
Darrell E. Jordan is a senior partner in the trial section of Dallas-based Hughes & Luce, LLP.