The following is from Vol. 19, No. 2 of The LRE Circuit For Friends Of Law-Related Education In Georgia. Fall, 2007:
"Marlene Melvin, curriculum and activities coordinator of the State Bar of Georgia's new Journey through Justice Program, announces the selection of Douglas Mann of Mann Bracken, LLC, as the recipient of the program's first Docent of the Year Award. Journey through Justice is a four-hour, interactive law-related education experience for kindergarten through high school students.”
"'Mr. Mann has committed to our program since its inception,' remarked Mrs. Melvin. 'In fact, he has generously donated over 105 hours of his time since February.' Mr. Mann demonstrates a unique ability to impart respect and understanding for the judicial process in a creative and inspirational manner. Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.’"
Well, I must tell you, it wasn't a lot of work. It was a lot of fun. Most of the children attending the program were African American. They treated me with respect and appreciation. I tried to be worthy of their opinion.
One day the mother of a student attending that day's program approached me and asked me if I would come to her child's school to talk on career day. I told her that I did not feel qualified but was honored she had asked. She said she noticed that the children listened to me and that was all the qualification I needed. I agreed to speak. How could I refuse?
The night before career day, I sat up for hours and thought about what she had said and what I should say to any high school students who might actually listen to me. I knew what was expected of me but I also knew what I really wanted to say.
The school was located in a nice midtown neighborhood. The houses were brick ranches. Looking at the yards, the equivalent of checking out a man's shoeshine, revealed them to be neat and well kept. The school itself was large, brick, of modern design, and practical but comfortable.
Through the many-door entrance, the school opened onto a large, deep foyer. Upper school students milled about, talking. They were all African American. So much for effective integration. The students were all well dressed and appeared to comport themselves respectfully. I was impressed. Signs everywhere provided information about career day.
I thought about how I must look to them. I was an old, at least to them, white man wearing a suit, dress shirt, and tie. I felt conspicuous. I took off the tie and stuffed it into my coat pocket.
When it was my turn to speak, I walked to center stage through a chatter of small talk, but before I could begin, a boy called out, "Hey mister attorney. If you want me to listen to you, tell me how much money you make a year." I saw him sitting near the back of the room, handsome, cocky with a hot girl on each arm. I speculated that he was The Fonz of the senior class. I knew that he was in his element, at the top of his game, but I also knew that he had reached the zenith of his life and would soon and forever, be looking up to view his memories of glory.
I wanted to go whisper in his ear, "See that nerdy kid over there, the one sitting alone, reading his calculus book. Be nice to him. Some day you will be working for him. And when your not-so-subtle Lolitas are but tawdry reminders of their too brief desirability as ripe, low hanging fruit, the nerdy kid will be dating...where is she? Oh yes, back there in the corner, the skinny one in tortoise shell, horn rim glasses. He will be dating her when she is in town between modeling events. And those glasses? They will be all the rage. Every woman from porn stars to European princesses will be wearing them."
Then, I noticed one of the teachers, all of whom were spaced around the room, make a beeline for this kid’s seat. Temporarily forgetting that I was not addressing one of my employees in my downtown Atlanta high-rise law offices, I said to the teacher "It's OK. Let him alone." The teacher stopped, shocked by my audacity. All of the students had turned to look at him. He nodded to me, turned around, and left. They saw that. They turned back to me, expectantly.
Looking directly at the smirking student, I admonished him with a calm, controlled intensity that simulated a full body slam. "Never ask a man how much money he makes or a woman how old she is. It's bad manners. However, are you familiar with the BMW M6?"
He and several other boys and girls responded with vigorous nods. I replied, "It's the blacked out, custom wheeled beast parked right out front, unless it got towed. I parked it in a no parking zone." Some smiled, some laughed, some cheered. Then they all got quiet. I had gained their respect and their attention. They wanted to know what I knew that they didn't know.
I took my time looking around the room, making sure all eyes and minds were on me. They were a good-looking group, well groomed, well dressed, and with that confidence found only in the young. It occurred to me that I was about to address a future mayor of the City of Atlanta.
Then I began, slowly. "I am not going to talk to you about the law or what it's like being a lawyer. You can get all of that from TV and movies. I am going to talk to you about how you can become a lawyer or anything else you want to become.
"It's really basic. It's really simple. You can't lie, steal, or cheat.” I paused and looked around the room again. There was a lot of eye rolling.
"I know you boys think you are tough and tell your friends that you can do the crime and, if caught, you can do the time. You girls think you are too smart to get caught. But you are all missing the real issue here.
"The real issue is not the injury you do to others. The real issue is the injury you do to yourself. If you think you must lie, steal, or cheat to get what you want, then you think that you are not good enough to get it otherwise. You think that you are a loser. And if you think you are a loser, you will be a loser.
"Think about it. Michael Jordan has the ball in his hands. He sees the basket. Millions of nationwide spectators hold their breath. You and they watch in amazement as he swishes the basket for another three-pointer. How did he do that? It's simple. He saw in his mind the trajectory of the ball. He saw it sail through the basket without touching the rim. All he did was throw the ball into the picture in his mind. Swish.
"Stand up straight, look people directly in the eye and smile. Be open and honest. You are a child of God, created in his image and beloved by him. No one has any power over you unless you give it to them. You are a winner. Keep that image before you at all times, in all things, and never ever, never ever, ever give up. Do that and you will be a winner.
"In addition to knowing that you are a winner, it will be helpful to keep an open mind and think creatively. Let me give you an example.”
It seemed like they moved in unison, leaning forward in their seats.
“One day my marketing director excitedly came to me with good news. She had acquired a new client for the firm. The client would provide us with a large volume of work and pay a premium fee. I figured we would need an additional 30 new employees to handle the work. I sent for my HR director. I told him to hire 30 new employees. He said we did not have workspace for even one new employee. We were at max capacity.
"I sent for my bookkeeper. I asked him what was the cost percentage for overhead. He said it was 80% total, broken down into 60% labor and 20% all other. The net profit was 20%. I thought I could rent additional space and still make a profit. So, I called our commercial leasing agent. He said he would get right on it and call back to advise the next morning.
"The next morning, he called back to say there was nothing available. I called an immediate meeting of all department heads. I explained the problem and then asked for possible solutions. There was silence for a while and then one volunteered, as all of the others nodded in agreement, that it was impossible, that it couldn’t be done.
"I quickly and confidently replied, ‘No, I don't believe that. Nothing is impossible. The only question is whether it is cost effective. Now say the first thing that comes into your head. It doesn't matter if it sounds crazy. Just do it.’
"One skinny young man said, ‘Fat people take up a lot of space. Let's fire all of the fat people and replace them with skinny people.’ He got booed but I said, ‘No. That's good. Let's keep going. What else can we do?’
"A young woman spoke up, her voice strained, ‘Well, we have tall ceilings. We could build platforms above the desks and have people work up there.’
"She got booed until they heard me say. ‘Yes. That's it. You have solved the problem. We rent this space and equipment 24/7, but we only work 12/5. I want HR to find me 30 employees who can, and are willing to, work nights and weekends, when we are not normally working.
"And to that young woman, I said, ‘Congratulations. You not only solved the problem, thus retaining a major client, but you turned that 20% profit client into a 40% profit client by eliminating the need for additional space and equipment overhead.’
I looked out at the assembled teenagers, and said, "So, remember. You are a winner. You don't need to lie, steal, or cheat. And, if you also think creatively and never give up, you can accomplish anything.”
As I walked off the stage to weak, sporadic consolation applause, I noticed many of the students talking quietly. About my message? Did anyone hear me? Do I get any karma points if no one heard me? I don't care. If I reached only one, it was worth it. I felt good.
I walked out of the school. It was a beautiful, warm Atlanta day. I got into my BMW M6, which my administrative assistant called the Batmobile. I sat there for a while, thinking back to when I was their age. I thought of Burlington and the many African American friends I grew up with there. We played together and we took care of each other. We were honest. We were black. We were white. We were poor. We were naive. We were blessed. We were so, so blessed. And we didn't even know it.