NYSBA President-Elect T. Andrew Brown says changing laws is not enough to eradicate centuries-long racial injustice in America, instead we need to change the way people think.
“Elimination of bias and inequities really starts when people are young,” said Brown, who thinks black history should be taught in schools. “You have to teach racial tolerance and diversity in our schools in meaningful ways to work against dehumanization. With George Floyd, it’s hard to imagine that you can easily kneel upon someone’s neck like that if you see that human as equal to yourself.”
Since the days of slavery, Brown said black people have been viewed by many Americans as second class citizens. He said it will take many years and much effort, by all citizens, to remedy this.
“There is racial injustice in every facet of American life – education, housing, employment, health care, just to name a few.”
Brown explained that the most blatant instances of modern racism and the greatest injustices against black people have arguably occurred at the hands of police “operating under the cloak of law and order.”
He recalled receiving “the talk” from his mother at a young age about the dos and don’ts of how to behave during encounters with law enforcement.
“That is a real phenomenon,” said Brown. “It’s unfortunate… but every black male beyond a certain age knows what the talk means. They know what you’re talking about.”
Overall, Brown believes there is a perception in the criminal courts that black defendants are guilty until proven innocent rather than innocent until proven guilty.
And over the course of his successful career spanning 36 years so far, Brown has witnessed racism up close in his profession, both in the treatment of lawyers as well as litigants. He has even seen instances of racism on the part of judges in both state and federal courts.
“Anybody who would say otherwise has not been in the courts that long or had their eyes wide open,” said Brown. “I would bet every black lawyer across the state would say the same thing if they’re being honest.”
Despite these grim realities, Brown’s message is one of opportunity and hope as he takes on a greater leadership role with the association as president-elect and then as president beginning June 1, 2021.
“As lawyers, we must find voice to contribute to the cause, for the benefit of the legal profession, our system of justice and all citizens that it serves,” said Brown. “Silence is not an option.”
Importance of Education
Brown, managing partner at Brown Hutchinson in Rochester, grew up in a family of little means in Kingston, NY. But what he did not have never got in the way of his thinking of what he wanted to have. Though he and his family did not have any personal relationships with any lawyers, by high school, Brown already knew he wanted to become one.
“I was fortunate to have parents who value the importance of education,” said Brown. “The chance for changing your opportunities and status in life is through education.”
Brown is a 1984 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and a 1981 graduate of Syracuse University. He currently serves as a vice chancellor of the Board of Regents.
“We have made equity a tangible part of everything that we do at the Board of Regents – funding, implementation of policy, and operations throughout the state,” said Brown. “We have an important role to play in shaping educational policy at every level of education.”
Brown’s law firm has offices in Rochester and New York City. The firm maintains a nationwide clientele and a statewide practice in the areas of civil litigation, employment and general business counsel. He has also been a mediator and arbitrator on commercial, employment and complex case panels of the American Arbitration Association since 1996.
He began his law career in New York City with the law firm now known as Nixon Peabody. He is a former corporation counsel and chief legal officer for the City of Rochester, and also served as deputy county attorney for Monroe County. He has taught at the college level, serving as an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Brockport and an instructor of law at Monroe Community College.
Bar service has also afforded Brown the opportunity to not only serve its members but also serve the larger citizenry. He is a former general counsel of the National Bar Association, the largest association of attorneys and judges of color in the world. He is a past president of the Monroe County Bar Association (the first minority to ever serve as its president) and a past president of the Rochester Black Bar Association.
“I’ve represented some of the biggest companies in the world and have represented private individuals who could never afford an attorney, and I will continue to do so as private practice allows me that opportunity,” said Brown. “I believe in public service. We all have an obligation to contribute in ways to make the world better.”