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Turman delivers Morris Lecture
Turman delivers Morris Lecture
Rossie E. Turman
Mankind's social responsibility to itself was pondered at the College of Law during the annual John P. Morris Memorial Lecture, named for a late professor who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others.
Rossie E. Turman, an Arizona State University graduate and finance lawyer in New York City, gave the address, "What if You Had Not Been Born?", at the College of Law on Tuesday, March 18. Sponsored by the John P. Morris Black Law Student Association, the annual event pays tribute to Morris, a faculty member from 1968-1993.
Turman said he began thinking about his own social footprint in February 1996, after his father passed away. Turman, who was in his first year at Columbia Law School at the time, flew home to Phoenix for the funeral and to be with his mother and other family members.
"People who knew my father started coming up to me, and what most of them did was share some sort of experience they'd had with my father," said Turman, whose mother, sister and aunts attended the lecture. "They didn't focus on his job or his accomplishments.
"They had been going through some particularly trying times in their lives, and my father was the person who had embraced them and allowed them to cry on his shoulder. Some of them, it was money out of his pocket. Some was just advice.
"I realized, because he had been born, these people had those impact moments," Turman said. "And I found myself asking myself, `What if I hadn't been born?'"
For those who ask themselves that question, and don't like the answer, he gave suggestions for ways to begin creating impact moments.
First, he said, look at the resources, skills and tools that are uniquely yours. While a student at Columbia, Turman did economic development pro-bono work in Harlem, using university resources, his flexible schedule as a law student and the proximity of that neighborhood to his college.
As a practicing lawyer, he now has access to big lenders and banks and has used his financial expertise to help develop low-income housing, build schools and make small business loans.
"I look for those moments when I can lead a client in a direction that they might not otherwise go, which lets them accomplish what they need to do, but in a more socially empowering way," Turman said.
Secondly, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and don't give up, he said. "Ask, `Given my constitution, and my personality, what can I do?'" Turman said. "If you fail, step back and figure out another way to accomplish it."
Impact moments are part of history, he said.
"It's what Rosa Parks did," Turman said. "She was an NAACP women's league member, and others had been arrested before her, but Rosa was the one with the cleanest slate. She got on the bus knowing full well she was about to be arrested, in the South, in the 1950s. She willingly walked into her impact moment."
In introducing Turman, Professor Alan Matheson shared some memories of Morris, with whom he worked for more than three decades.
In addition to counseling students throughout ASU, Morris convinced Tempe to pursue federal funding to build the city's first low-income housing and advised basketball great "Jumping Joe" Caldwell when Caldwell got into legal trouble with the American Basketball Association.
"John Morris was blessed with intelligence, blessed with generosity and blessed with savvy," Matheson said. "He had a remarkable way of getting along with people. He became the conscience of the law school and, indeed, the university. University presidents turned to him during difficult times, and he responded."
Morris was discriminated against on several occasions, having been prohibited from staying in the dorms at Northwestern University Law School and unable to find a job as a lawyer in Chicago in the 1960s.
Matheson said the College is fortunate to have the Morris name on a lecture.
"His service to the law school was amazing, but his service to the people of Arizona, Illinois and other places - it's a wonderful legacy," he said.