Our Time Is Now
Inaugural Address given on January 21, 2012.
Everybody comes from somewhere. Mary left Georgia with nothing but her family, her freedom, and her dreams.
She settled in Moccasin Bend, got married to Jake and raised 14 children, the youngest of which was Bessie.
Bessie lived almost a century, and in that century, she and her husband Will reared two children (Myrtle and George), and dedicated their lives to educating countless others.
George grew-up in Italy (Texas), went to college at Prairie View (A&M), went to war in Italy (Europe) risking his life abroad for a segregated society at home, and came back a decorated veteran to finish college. He taught for a while, then went to Cornell for post-graduate work.
While at Cornell, he met Eula—a daughter of the South…reared in Tuskegee…the youngest daughter of Corinne and James Patrick. Eula grew-up in the shadow of Booker T. Washington’s legacy, while watching George Washington Carver work in his lab, and witnessing Airmen train a few miles from her home.
After graduating from Tuskegee Institute, and on the eve of a social movement in her native Alabama that would soon transform a nation, she traveled to upstate New York to further her education and fashion her future.
George & Eula married, travelled the world, and eventually settled down at George’s alma mater (Prairie View) to teach at the university and to rear their five children.
I am the youngest of those five…and I am the product of all of these experiences. Born on a snowy Spring day in Houston, I’m a son of the Civil Rights Movement, a grandson of Jim Crow and the Deep South and a great-grandson of slavery, the potato famine and the trail of tears.
I’m a scholar, an athlete, a musician and a dreamer.
I’m a student and a teacher.
I’m an Aggie…and a Raider…born to two Ivy-Leaguers.
I value traditions while striving to be non-traditional, unpredictable, and at times unconventional.
I was raised in the church as a person of faith and I constantly strive to maintain and strengthen that faith.
I’m a husband and a father of three.
I’m a mentor to some, and a mentee to many.
I am Paul K. Stafford. I’m a lawyer, I’m a Dallas Bar member and I’m honored and humbled to serve as your President for 2012.
Who are you? You are some of the best, brightest and most prominent people that Dallas has to offer. You are attorneys, judges and members of the legal community. Influencers, investors and innovators. Advocates, adversaries and activists. Trend-setters, change-agents, talented-tenth, and some of you are the 1 percent.
You are a group of individuals with hopes, dreams and aspirations…all unique in your own way, yet united by commonality, defined by commitment, with collective conscience to achieve common cause.
Our commonality manifests itself in the organization known as the Dallas Bar Association, dedicated to serving and supporting the legal profession in Dallas; providing excellent continuing education to its members; promoting good relations among lawyers, the judiciary, and the community; serving the public; improving the administration of justice.
But the DBA is more than this. It takes time and commitment to create an institution and it is the actions of the Dallas Bar that has transformed it from merely an organization to the prominent institution that it is today. These actions transcend time and create a lasting legacy for those who shall follow us.
So, what is this institution called the Dallas Bar Association, and how are we fulfilling our commitment?
We are a 139 year-old Bar Association—39 Committees, 29 Sections and nearly 11,000 members.
We are a consistent force in the community.
We are legal past, present, and future simultaneously.
We are professional development, community service, and pro bono.
We are Criminal & Civil; Big Firm and Solo & Smalls; Government & Private; In-House and Outside Counsel.
We are Courthouse, Judiciary, Professionalism, and Probate.
We are Bar None, Bench Bar, Blood Drives, and the Belo.
We are Health Law and Habitat, Food Drives and Fee Disputes.
We are Law Day, Law in the Schools, Lawyer Referral, and LegalLine.
We are Mentoring, Minority Participation, and Mock Trial.
We are IP, M&A, ADR, and Business Lit.
We are Taxes and Torts, Trusts, and Trial Skills.
Define us at your own risk.
We are the DBA—committed to common causes with collective conscience.
All of these activities display the commitment of the DBA and its members…
But are we fully committed? Are we fully engaged?
We tell ourselves that the DBA is a great institution, and our works are a testament that it is…and someday we’ll be even better.
But when does SOMEDAY begin?
When do “What If's” become “What Is,” and Thoughts transform from “Aspirational” to “Actionable.”
During his “I Have a Dream Speech” in August of 1963, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.”
In a subsequent sermon in April of 1967, Dr. King stated, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time.”
Well, I submit to you that tomorrow is today. SOMEDAY began yesterday and GREAT begins NOW.
Our time IS now. In this time, at this moment, in this place, with this commitment, with this consciousness.
Commit. Engage. Improve. Enhance.
Long ago, a young ambitious boy asked an old man of great wealth “What is your most precious asset? What is your most prized possession?” “Time,” the old man replied. He reminded me that time is sacred, and of unknown quantity. He said he would give all of his possessions for more of it, but admitted that it ultimately could not be bought. Nevertheless, as in Ephesians, he advised me to redeem the time like you have to pay for it by being careful in my walk and not being foolish. I am no longer that young boy, but I am no less ambitious. Will you help me in this cause?
Will you commit to the DBA and help it in using its time and resources to become what it could become.
Will each of you commit to donating your most precious commodity…TIME.
Abraham Lincoln said that “[A] lawyer's time and advice are his stock in trade.”
We are in fact a profession that in large measure defines itself in terms of TIME.
We perform services to clients at a billable rate and presumably are compensated based upon the amount of time expended on a matter.
Most of us even think in 6 minute increments.
Why not donate some of that time to a common cause with collective conscience. Why not donate some of that time to the DBA?
How much time? As much as your time will permit; but let’s start with a simple commitment…
As your President, I request that you donate at least 12 hours to the Dallas Bar Association in 2012. That could be one hour per month, 12 hours in one day or however much you wish.
What could we be with this renewed commitment and engagement?
As a city and region, we could be the best legal market in the state, and perhaps the Nation.
We could be a place where even more top-notch attorneys and newly minted law graduates want to live, practice and thrive.
We could be a place where more women and minority attorneys want to stay, and not leave for opportunities elsewhere.
As a Bar, we could continuously strive to be more.
We could be a Bar that continues to have one of the premiere addresses not only in the city, but in the State and the nation.
We could be a beacon of diversity & inclusion.
We could be a Bar that continues to offer excellent CLE at little to no cost to its members.
We could continue to be a professional outlet for community involvement.
What will we say at the end of this year of renewed commitment and engagement?
We’ll say that the DBA continued to offer over 400 excellent CLEs at low cost or no cost.
We’ll say that the Committees and Sections continued the high-quality programming and community service for which each are known.
We’ll say that the during the 20th Anniversary of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, the Dallas legal community continued to provide Pro Bono services and vital assistance to those less fortunate than us.
We'll say that the DBA continued to offer "Real Help In Hard Times" through the DBA's Career Center.
We’ll say that beginning in March of 2012, the DBA continued its commitment to its young professionals by commissioning a Trial Academy which allows for valuable litigation instruction and trial skills development.
We’ll say that the DBA became more collaborative with other prominent entities and portions of our community, such as the Dallas Arts District, professional organizations, community organizations and international organizations.
One such organization is the German Marshall Fund Marshall Memorial Fellows program, which will be hosting its annual Marshall Forum here in Dallas April 26-29, 2012.The DBA (in particular, the International Law and Business Litigation Sections) are collaborative partners for the Forum, and a portion of the Forum will take place in the Belo.
We’ll say that we networked and got to know each other a little better, at events such as the DBA Summer Recess—Picnic in June, 2012.
And, we’ll also say that the DBA hosted and facilitated a candid and productive dialogue on diversity and inclusion best practices within the legal profession at the Diversity Forum on November 29, 2012.
Most importantly at the end of 2012, we'll collectively say that we were committed and engaged.
Twelve hours in 2012 is what I ask, because:
If Mary can leave Georgia with nothing but her family, her dreams and her freedom, then we can leave our comfort-zones and help others most in need.
If Jake can raise a family in rural Texas with few if any resources, we can utilize our resources to raise the Bar to new heights.
If Bessie and Will can dedicate their lives to teaching coloured youth at the public school, we can teach a DISD what it means to be a productive citizen.
If George can fight fascism overseas, and racism at home, we can fight for a diverse and inclusive profession
If Eula can leave all that she knew for a better yet unknown future, we can leave this Bar and this community better than we found it.
Mary, Jake, Bessie, Will, Myrtle and George are no longer with us, but their legacy lives on in their progeny and in a resounding hope for the future.
A hope born when hope unborn had died.
A hope of what we could become…individually and collectively.
A hope that a small boy from Prairie View could someday become President of the best Bar Association anywhere—Bar None.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve, and God Bless and keep us as we journey together through 2012 and beyond.