At Chartwell Law, we value the experiences and viewpoints of all of our attorneys and staff. We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion foster both innovation and a better understanding of ourselves and our clients.
In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February we will be featuring Chartwell Law attorneys sharing their views on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their personal and professional lives. This week, we sit down with J.C. Roper, a partner in our Atlanta, GA office to discuss his views on Black History Month.
Is there a specific experience or Black figure you were influenced by during your childhood?
The influential figures in the BIPOC community are so numerous that it is difficult to narrow it down to just one. My parents and the teachers in our schools constantly seeded us with information and historical perspectives that were completely absent from state approved curriculums, including our contributions to science, technology, medicine, and law. Large swaths of contributions made by African Americans have been completely absent from the American history curriculum, but I was fortunate that my parents understood the need for me to be taught in primary grades by educators who poured into us science, technology, math, history, art and music perspectives that correctly and accurately reflected the BIPOC experience, contributions and the inventions and advancements not acknowledged and credited to African Americans through traditional teaching curriculums.
I knew who Mary Jackson “the human computer” was before anyone ever thought about making the movie Hidden Figures, because my parents and elementary school teachers made sure that my classmates and I understood our scientific and cultural relevance to the establishment, advancement and building of America completely absent from textbooks.
Because of my parents and teachers, we excelled in debate, academic and science bowl competitions and in concert, orchestra and symphonic band competitions against tuition and private schools. We knew and understood the significance of Dr. Charles R. Drew, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, and Dr. Patricia Era Bath for her inventions. Life comes full circle. My mother was unable to complete her nursing degree, but she is proud that her granddaughter (my daughter) is a medical school student.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ms. Martha Jordan, Ms. Carson (first grade teacher), Mr. Gerald Carr (math), Mr. Errol Watts (music), Ms. Martin (math), Mr. Steele (music), and Henry Fisher (science) to name just a few. Teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated. These teachers, and many, many others not named, poured everything they had into us (time and dedication). Many of us (their students) went on to become attorneys, physicians, entrepreneurs, real estate agents and other professionals.
How do you view the importance of diversity and inclusion in today’s workplace?
By 2050, the majority of the population will identify as non-white. The workforce is increasingly diverse, and numerous studies show that the most successful enterprises are diverse in ethnicity, gender, and culture perspectives. In today’s workplace, diversity, equity, and inclusion must be elevated to an organizational level to compete. Law firms, corporations and other businesses will retain the best talent by intentionally creating workplace climates that promote gender pay equity, and meritocracy, and that reward, recognize, financially incentivize, and encourage leaders in the organizations to champion and promote diversity equity and inclusion. But the legal industry and law firm leaders also must embrace the work to create an infrastructure that promotes DE&I from the top down.
What diversity and inclusion changes would you like to see in the future of the legal industry?
The legal profession has been slow to change. The low percentage of BIPOC (attorneys of color) advancing to equity partner/shareholder or to the executive committees, compensation committees and managing partner positions in Big Law has not changed. Thankfully, the advancement and improvement in the rate of advancement for women in general has increased, but for women of color, in particular African-American women and men, has not improved in the last 20 years. There must be more intentionality in this area. We know being intentional works. On the whole, the legal industry has not embraced the level of intentionality and planning with African-American attorneys to rectify the problem. I am grateful to be with Chartwell Law which has been supportive and encouraged me to bring my full, authentic self to the practice of law. I am best when I feel supported, appreciated, and encouraged to work, compete, and succeed at a high level.