Bias Awareness: Bar associations mark week with annual awards reception

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By Frank Weir
Legal News

The annual Bias Awareness Week concluded last Thursday with a Bias Awareness Reception event at Weber's Inn.

At the reception, the Washtenaw County Bar Association presented its Martin Luther King Jr. "I Have a Dream" Award to EMU Professor Ronald Woods, while the Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association also presented its Frederick Douglass Racial Justice and Harmony Award to well-known local attorney Delphia Simpson.

The evening concluded with the showing of the documentary, "Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game."

Director Brian Kruger was on hand and offered comments about the making of the film and answered questions. Hooper Hathaway attorney Marta Manildi introduced Woods. She noted that it was a "personal privilege" for her to have served with Woods on the board for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission.

"It was difficult work at times with lots of different constituencies, lots of conflict and different points of view. Professor Woods always was respectful, gentle, firm, clear, and wise," Manildi said. "He was always a mediating voice in potential conflicts.

"At that time, I didn't know his history. He grew up in Cincinnati in the Jim Crow era and while there became associated with Rev. (L. Venchael) Booth at the Zion Baptist Church which played an important role in the civil rights movement at the time."

She noted that Booth had developed a progressive national Baptist convention, a first for African American Baptists at the national level.

"It was a radical thing at the time and helped shape Professor Woods."

She added that he founded the Department of African American Studies at EMU, now the Department of Africology and sits on boards in Ann Arbor and Detroit "focused on all aspects of the movement toward full and meaningful integration of rights in all of our civil institutions. He is a lawyer of dignity deeply concerned with legal institutions and racial history."

Woods thanked the bar association as well as several key people in his life including his parents Sylvester and Rebecca who "during my upbringing in Cincinnati helped me navigate the difficult journey of Jim Crow segregation. I learned so much from them."

Erane Washington, current president of the Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association, introduced award recipient Delphia Simpson.

"The Frederick Douglas Racial Justice and Harmony Award honors a person who has fought to achieve justice for African Americans, other minorities, and women, for harmony, equality, and respect. We look at five criteria and we think Delphia Simpson is highly deserving and meets all of our award criteria."

Washington noted that Simpson, after graduation from Spelman College and the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore, began practicing family law with the legal aid bureau of Maryland.

"She said that experience opened her eyes to free or low cost legal and mental health services and how that could really help people. She has had an ongoing commitment to doing just that. She has been a family law attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law program working with offices around the state, she is active with the ACLU in promoting racial justice and has been with the Washtenaw County Public Defender's Office for a long time."

In accepting the award, Simpson thanked the VHBA membership for their tremendous support in recent months.

"I am so grateful to you I can't say enough about this group of attorneys. I am so fortunate to pursue my interest in a law career that allows me to open paths for all to have access to our legal system."

She added that her parents, Dorothy and Willie Simpson, were "shining examples and lived up to the call to do public service." She recognized Washtenaw County Public Defender Lloyd Powell, her co-workers at the Washtenaw County Public Defender's Office and Legal Services.

"Legal Services helped train me as an attorney," she said, while also praising her husband, Garth John.

She added that in 1890 Frederick Douglas was quoted "people ask me about our race problem. The greatest problem is whether our great nation is great enough to carry out its own conviction to the Declaration and Constitution. It weighs heavily that after so many years, we are still struggling to live up to our own convictions. One would think we would have seen the end of exclusion and bias in our communities but sadly we haven't."

She noted that there is still "lots of work to do, but I'm an optimist."

Said Simpson: "It warms my heart that Washtenaw County has a willingness to examine institutional bias and to question whether we are great enough to live up to the convictions of our Constitution. I applaud all of you for questioning bias in our community and having this week of reflection."

She concluded by noting that she was dedicating the award to "my hero, my big brother, the Honorable John Cedric Simpson, for his battle to fight unfair and damaging stereotypes."

Published: Thu, Oct 29, 2015

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