The NYU School of Law not only turns out good lawyers, it turns out lawyers who do good. Four outstanding alumni were honored for their achievements and commitment to social justice by the Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association (BLAPA) at their annual dinner last April.
When entertainment lawyer Lisa Davis (’85) attended the Law School, racism was an insidious reality. “Call-backs for students of color during Early Interview Week were rare,” she said, and students of color rarely landed jobs with large firms. “We were told [by hiring partners] that ‘people like to hire people who look like them.’ ” Now a partner at New York-based Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, Davis was named one of “America’s Top Black Lawyers” by Black Enterprise magazine. Davis has spent much of her professional life fighting inequity, from working as chairperson of the East Harlem School at Exodus House to her more recent involvement in providing cultural enrichment with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Her BLAPA award honored these diligent efforts. Keeping with the upbeat spirit of the event, she used her acceptance speech to reiterate her vow to “never be complacent in the face of discrimination.”
Bryan Pu-Folkes (’94), a former corporate lawyer whose commitment and dedication to public service took him out of corporate work and into immigrant communities, also received a distinguished service award from BLAPA. As the head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, Pu-Folkes deals with all types of discrimination, from race to sexual orientation to disability. And in 1999, Pu-Folkes founded New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), a New York-based nonprofit organization seeking to civically educate and empower new immigrants.
Elgin Clemons Jr. (’94) was honored for his efforts in urban economic development. The Root-Tilden graduate is the former CEO of the Economic Development Corporation for Trenton, a nonprofit real estate development company with a mission to improve Trenton’s economic, social, cultural, and physical environment through development and redevelopment projects. As a student, Clemons also won the NYU Greene Memorial Award for Trial Advocacy, which is the highest award given to a prospective trial lawyer in the graduating class.
U.S. Federal District Court Judge Ronald Guzman (’73) received an award for a distinguished career that includes work with the Association House of Chicago, a legal services program that provides free representation for members of the largely Latino and African-American communities in the Chicago area. He also served as a magistrate judge in the Northern District of Illinois for nine years, before being appointed a district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois by President Clinton in 1999.
BLAPA also awarded three $3,500 scholarships against outstanding debt to thirdyear minority students who are already working hard in the public interest. The winners: Chitra Aiyar (’04), for her efforts on behalf of The Door and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) High School for Social Justice in Brooklyn; Michael Hing (’04), who interned at the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education and works with the New York Consortium for Worker Education; and Ming Chen (’04), who helped establish the west coast version of the Harvard Civil Rights Project and worked at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Brookings Institution.
A new BLAPA executive board, led by Michelle Meertens (’98), was also ushered in at the dinner. Meertens got her tenure off to a strong start, urging not only the award winners, but everyone in the audience to continue their noble fight against racial and ethnic inequalities.