UNCG General Counsel Jerry Blakemore recently delivered his year-end remarks as the departing chair of the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA). But his speech took on a new significance as it drew upon recent events that have upended not only our campus and city, but the world. His words spoke not only to his profession as a lawyer, but were also deeply personal.
“This past year has not been what any of us expected,” said Blakemore. “Never in the 60 years of NACUA’s existence has our Association faced both a global pandemic with the novel COVID-19 virus, and national and international outrage and unrest caused by the senseless homicides of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and many Black American citizens before by police officers. The combination of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the wrongful killings of fellow human beings represent unparalleled challenges to our institutions of higher education.”
Blakemore spoke of his and other lawyers’ responsibilities and obligations as a legal representatives in higher education to meet the needs of their clients, their professions, and the communities that they serve. He states, “There is no more relevant time than now to consider the moral, economic, social, and political factors to our practice.”
Blakemore notes that the pandemic and social unrest have prompted him and other lawyers in higher education to reflect deeply on “how our core values – quality, service, collegiality, civility, respect, diversity, and inclusiveness have guided our practice and informed out behaviors.”
During his speech, Blakemore spoke directly about the recent social unrest that has gripped the world, describing it as “… a reawakening of the tensions, the fears, and concerns regarding race in this country, particularly, the relationship of law enforcement to the African American community. Make no mistake about this, these issues go far beyond the killing of one Black man. These issues impact, in unique ways, both communities of color and persons of other backgrounds. In fact, it is these populations that comprise our colleges and universities and call upon our institutions of higher education to both lead and respond.”
The outgoing NACUA chair spoke from deeply personal experience, sharing his memories of discussions he and his brothers had with their father while growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago. He remembers his father telling them, “Life is not fair, and I cannot protect you from everything that may come your way. You need to make certain that you work harder, prepare better, and make certain that you are always doing what is right because you will be challenged.”
Blakemore closed his speech with a quote by Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. “If we are willing, we can provide our children and grandchildren with a better tomorrow. If we are not, this will not be sustainable in the long run. By nature, I am an optimist. I get to work every day with faculty and staff who fuel this sense of hope; and I get to see thousands of students each year on our campus who make me believe that we can do more, do better. I have faith that we can come together and meet the challenges head on. I hope we have the will to do so.”
Story by Matthew Bryant, University Communications