Above and beyond: Community service award recipient improves lives of inner-city students

By Debra Talcott

Legal News

When the Oakland County Bar Association's Diversity in the Legal Profession Committee sets out to select a recipient for the Leon Hubbard Community Service Award, committee members look to honor an individual or law-related organization with a record of community service and a reputation for promoting cultural diversity, advancing social equality, and working to enhance the quality of life for all people. This year, the recipient who exemplifies those qualities is attorney Cheryl A. Bush, majority owner and managing partner of Bush, Seyferth, & Paige (BSP) in Troy.

Bush was nominated by Stephanie A. Douglas, also of BSP, who calls her colleague "an ambassador of diversity and philanthropy" and "an incredible example for women in the legal profession."

"When I learned that my partner, Stephanie, had nominated me, and when I read about Leon Hubbard and looked at the names of prior recipients, I felt deeply humbled," says Bush.

Hubbard was a prominent Pontiac attorney who was considered a pioneer for human rights and dignity. He was the founding father of the Pontiac Area Urban League and was considered a "champion for the underdog and the underprivileged."

A woman-owned law firm certified by the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), BSP specializes in providing nationwide services for complex business litigation and appeals. Bush as an individual and the firm as a whole promote women and minorities in the law and business. As part of NAMWOLF, Bush met with members of Congress in 2010 to discuss the challenges minority and woman-owned law firms face in procuring contracting opportunities with the federal government.

Bush serves as National Counsel for a major automotive manufacturer and handles catastrophic air bag trials throughout the country. She has been inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers, is a board member of the Product Liability Advisory Council, and is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Yet it is her passion for serving her community that has earned her the admiration of so many in the county.

Bush is a dedicated supporter of Cornerstone Schools in Detroit, a private school for children in preschool through 12th grade, which serves as a model for urban education across the nation.

Bush devotes many hours to improving the lives of the inner-city students who attend Cornerstone. She sits on the advisory board for the Cornerstone High School, and she speaks to the students at Cornerstone's CEO Saturdays. She is a proud sponsor of Cornerstone School's "Partners for Mentoring" program and "Be a Tiger for Kids" day. Bush has also made the personal commitment to partner with a Cornerstone student for the past six years, and she contributes financially to that student's education.

"Education is hope," says Bush. "We need to have equity of opportunity in this country, and education is the pathway to that equity."

The commitment to Cornerstone that Bush displays has been infectious at BSP, resulting in the entire firm getting involved. BSP has hosted an annual golf and tennis outing for the past six years which has raised $180,000 for Cornerstone in that time. And word has it that Bush personally bakes cookies for the event, which has been a success year after year.

"Yes, for a donation of $400 to Cornerstone, I will bake the donor a dozen of the best chocolate chip toasted pecan cookies they have ever had. Orders can be placed at bush@bsplaw.com."

BSP also hosts a Cornerstone intern during the school year, and the firm employs four Cornerstone interns during the summer. Members of the firm mentor the students to help them strengthen their communication skills, their business etiquette, and their academic performance. Bush sometimes shares stories about her own humble beginnings to motivate the students and show them that difficult odds can be overcome.

"I'm a blue-collar kid from Fraser who worked very hard," says Bush, who is the first in her family to graduate from college. "Neither of my parents graduated from high school, and I now live in Grosse Pointe Park with the best husband in the world, Stephen Winter," says an appreciative Bush.

"Cheryl challenges and disciplines the Cornerstone interns and incentivizes and rewards them too," says Douglas. "They sometimes enjoy trips to Somerset for new boots or school supplies and sometimes go home with backpacks filled with snack-department goodies. As members of the BSP family, with Cheryl as the matriarch, the Cornerstone interns always go home knowing that BSP cares."

Bush says she first got involved with Cornerstone after seeing its television commercial "This Little Light of Mine" several years ago. She was inspired by the statistics given on the Cornerstone web site, which showed a high school graduation rate of 92 percent with about 85 percent going on to post-high school education. Today the website takes pride in saying that 100 percent of Cornerstone students graduate and 100 percent go on to attend college.

The Leon Hubbard Community Service Award has been presented since 1994 and is a fitting tribute to a community servant such as Bush, who was honored October 1 in a strolling cocktail reception at The Bird & the Bread in Birmingham.

Upon receiving her award, Bush spoke about race as the "elephant in the room."

"Among the local legal community, we almost never talk about it directly," says Bush. "I recommended Verna Myers's books, including 'What if I Say the Wrong Thing?,' which I think everyone should read. It is easy to write a check. What is truly meaningful and, in my view, the difference maker, is mentoring students-encouraging them to work hard in school and sharing yourself and how you got where you are and letting them know that if they work hard, they can achieve and be whatever they aspire to."

Bush encouraged everyone in attendance to get involved with a City of Detroit child-whether that child attends Cornerstone, a charter school, or a Detroit Public School.

"They may find, as I have found, that I get more out of each of these relationships than I give."

It is that attitude, precisely, that inspired Stephanie Douglas to nominate Bush for the Hubbard Award in the first place, saying that, "her heart may be the one thing that exceeds her legal talent."

Published: Wed, Oct 14, 2015