On May 18, 2012, I had the honor of receiving the 2012 Corporate Counsel of the Year Award from the Metropolitan Black Bar Association of New York City (MBBA). Formed from the merger of two of the nation’s oldest black bar associations – the Harlem Lawyers Association, founded in 1921, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Lawyers Association, founded in 1933 – MBBA is one of the largest organizations of Black attorneys in New York State. I was honored along with The Honorable Judge Raymond J. Lohier of the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; James T. Breedlove, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Praxair, Inc.; Peter C. Harvey, Partner, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, LLP; Earamichia Brown, Investigative Counsel, State of New York Office of the Inspector General; and Wayne S. McKenzie, General Counsel, New York City Department of Probation. Being honored by one’s own peers and colleagues is amazing. Seeing my name listed among such luminaries in the legal profession is both awesome (as in awe-inspiring) and humbling.
I’m terrible at picture-taking, but thankfully, my dear friend Paula Edgar (no relation) sent me this one:
The MBBA award was my first professional honor of this type, and receiving it reminded me how very much I am my mother’s child. My mother was never big on celebrating achievement. An all-A report card was expected. The Bs would be questioned, and only a couple of those were allowed. Less than a B was absolutely forbidden. Graduations were celebrated as achievement milestones, but there was always the question of “now what?” lingering in the air. You were supposed to graduate, after all. She wanted to know what you were going to do with that degree. If Mom were alive, she would have congratulated me on the award, but she wouldn’t have traveled to see me receive it. Getting an award for doing your job well? You’re supposed to do your job well. She wouldn’t say it, but that’s what she’d be thinking.
And so I had to fight my natural tendency to downplay the award. When people said, “Wow, that’s a big honor,” I couldn’t shrug it off. I had to accept being in the spotlight. The Monday before the event, I still didn’t have a dress or shoes, let alone an acceptance speech. Thankfully, by the end of the week, it all came together beautifully.
I chose not to write a speech, but instead, drew inspiration from the speakers who went before me, and used my time to give tribute to my mother and to thank my colleagues, friends and family for coming out to celebrate with me.
Honored, humbled – and thankful.