Spinks was cut from same cloth as Straker

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

In Detroit legal circles, his name became synonymous with the terms “noted lawyer,” “scholar,” and “civil rights activist.”

D. Augustus Straker, the namesake of the local bar association that was founded in 1990, lived his life as testimony to the nation’s declaration that “all men are created equal.”

Six years ago, I became acquainted with the activities of the Straker Bar through the work of one of its past presidents, A. Kay Stanfield Spinks, who was nearing the final days of her career as a magistrate with the 46th District Court in Southfield.

Stanfield Spinks had spent 23 years in the magistrate’s role for one of the busiest district court operations in the state, and the Detroit native said it would be a “bittersweet time” to say farewell to her many friends and colleagues there as she embarked upon a new role as a special counsel for an investment firm in Detroit.

I would later learn that she also had carved out an impressive career as a mediator and arbitrator, presiding over a host of especially nettlesome cases, including a series of legal disputes surrounding the ill-fated Bloomfield Park development, a billion-dollar project that stands in ruins as a monument to an economy gone bad.

Before long, our talk turned to her parents and the important roles they played in her life. Her parents came to the Motor City in 1945 from Arkansas, where they both were supervisors at a munitions plant during World War II. Her father was a barber and owned several businesses before retiring, while her mother was a longtime real estate agent, doubling as the “greatest inspiration” for Stanfield Spinks.

By a cruel twist of fate, cancer would claim both her parents, just months apart in late 2005 and early 2006. The disease also took the life of her first husband in 1996 at the age of 45.

In short, she knew all about heartbreak and the pain that is felt at the loss of a loved one.

Almost instinctively, she could “feel my pain” without a word being said about the then recent loss of my mother and the impending deaths of my father from the effects of Alzheimer’s and my best friend from the ravages of liver cancer.

It wouldn’t take long during our conversation before she began asking the most pertinent of questions, reading the look on my face as if we were lifelong friends. She immediately expressed keen interest in my plight, while also displaying a sense of understanding and compassion that defied logic for someone I had only met a few minutes earlier.

So when word came in late 2012 that Stanfield Spinks had succumbed to cancer, on a day that should have been celebrated in grand fashion as her 60th birthday, I felt as if I had been dealt another double body blow, a loss that stirred emotions that seemingly were put to rest.

I will remember well a chance to interview her for a feature story as she set sail in the summer of 2010 on her new job. She told me about going to law school in the early ’70s, saying that “the percentage of female lawyers at that time was so small it almost didn’t register, but that didn’t stop me or other women from wanting to pursue our dream of becoming involved in the law.”

Said she: “Being female, and being African American on top of that, was not an impediment.”

It became clear that Stanfield Spinks had displayed a special drive and determination since her high school days at Cass Tech in Detroit, taking it to the University of Michigan, where she was awarded a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1974 and her law degree three years later.

She joined the 46th District Court as a magistrate in 1987, an appointment that allowed her to maintain a private practice. During her time as magistrate, Stanfield Spinks became active in the Straker Bar Association, an organization formed “with a mission of promoting legal practice opportunities for minorities and women, and to facilitate equal justice opportunities for all citizens.”

In 1993, as the then president of the Straker Bar, Stanfield Spinks was instrumental in creating the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition, an event that sprung from remarks that Dr. King made during his heyday in the civil rights movement, saying that he wanted to become a “drum major for justice.”

She took pride in the growth of the event, which offers high school students from across Oakland and Wayne counties the chance to test their legal mettle, perhaps serving as a launch pad for a career in the law.

“I think that Dr. King would be very proud to know that the legacy he left behind lives on, generation after generation, and that the principles for equality of justice is stronger than ever,” she said at the time.

Her words will echo ever louder as one of her enduring legacies, serving as a reminder of a legal pioneer whose selfless nature and devotion to good causes will be cherished by a legion of admirers in the years to come.

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