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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jan. 8, 201808:19 AM EST

Legal community comes together for ‘Unity Day’

Inaugural event honors legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

If having every seat reserved before an event debuts is indicative of potential longevity, the inaugural “Unity Day Luncheon” on Thursday at River City Brewing Co. signals a long-term presence.

The meeting of members of the D.W. Perkins Bar Association, which led the event, Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association, Jacksonville Asian-American Bar Association, Jacksonville Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and The Jacksonville Bar Association had two goals.

One, it was an opportunity for the legal community to be the first this year to recognize the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day federal holiday Jan. 15.

Two, it brought local voluntary Bar associations together to foster better understanding and collaboration, said Amber Donley, president of D.W. Perkins.

Donley said the event, attended by 119 people, mirrors King’s philosophies of choosing love over hate, unity instead of divisiveness and action instead of inaction.

“It started as an idea to bring together the Bar associations to unify our community. It’s about pooling our talents and resources to make a difference,” Donley said.

“As attorneys and judges, people look to us for leadership,” she said.

Michael Higer, president of The Florida Bar, took the day off from his office at Berger Singerman in Miami to make the keynote address at the meeting and “take time out to show some respect for Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said.

Higer recalled his memories of his “Miami, Jewish, liberal home” on April 4, 1968, when King was assassinated at a motel in Memphis.

“There in the living room, mom and dad were watching TV. Mom was crying and dad was doing his best to comfort her,” Higer said.

He said he didn’t understand until later, when his father came into his room and explained that someone had murdered the civil rights leader.

“My sense of justice was forged in that moment,” Higer said.

In October, Higer attended a meeting in Memphis and visited the site where King was killed. The experience brought back memories of that day in 1968 and made him consider the present and the future, he said.

“I thought about all the progress we’ve made – but I also thought about all the work we still need to do.”

Donley said she hopes “Unity Day” will become an annual event for the legal community and that it can create a sense of common purpose.

“I don’t want this to be one and done,” she said. “We have to ensure that this continues.”

The Unity Luncheon was sponsored by The Florida Bar Diversity and Inclusion Committee and by the Bench Bar Fund of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

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