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Keeping Hope Alive

Dateline: Covid-19, Week 36

I won’t lie to you. These past nine months have had their moments.

Who amongst us hasn’t had that morning where getting up seemed inordinately difficult? It’s not the ten-thousand yard stare. I’ve had that a time or two in my life, after crushing blows like an unexpected death, where the order of the universe seems dangerously out of kilter.

The moment I am talking about is the Sisyphus-like weight that greets us some mornings, like the gravity of Jupiter. How is it in our darkest moments that we keep on? How did Nelson Mandela keep hope, let alone lead, through 27 years and three prisons? How different did the walls look between Robben Island, Pollsmoor and Victor Verster? What did Moses say to the people in the Sinai at the 20 year mark? “We’re halfway there, my friends! Keep on walking!”

Viktor Frankl, after surviving Nazi concentration camps, wrote that as long as we had hope – defined as meaning and purpose – we could survive anything, a form of psychotherapy he called logotherapy. We have all learned a lot these past few years about hope and what we have taken for granted.

There are always silver linings, not the least of which is that we will certainly possess a jeweler’s eye going forward. I thought a little hope from those who have seen darker days and shined a light would make for good programming this week.

I had the honor of interviewing Ethiopian-American activist Seenaa Jimjimo and Dr. Karl Von Batten of Von Batten, Montague & York with Julian Pecquet, editor of Foreign Lobby Report  for our weekly show on foreign influence called The Influencers. Seenaa is the Executive Director of the Oromo Legacy Leadership & Advocacy Association (OLLAA). She was born and raised in Africa under an Ethiopian regime that had banned her native language, Oromo, for 50 years. She helped inspire House Resolution 128 on human rights in Ethiopia, introduced in 2017 and passed in 2018. What struck me most about Seenaa was her passion, optimism and humor. The spirit to keep on going.

Some years ago, we represented Roger Blackwell, a retired professor from Ohio State University who had taught 65,000 students (likely the most of any American professor); written 39 books; built multiple businesses; donated much of his teaching salary back to the university; and found himself incarcerated in a Federal Correction Institution for alleged insider trading where even the prosecutor admitted he hadn’t benefited in any way, in what most might refer to as “overzealous prosecution.” He used his time to tutor hundreds of inmates to receive a GED and, in his words, “learned lessons about a nation that can only be learned in prison.” His latest book, since his release in 2014, is You Are Note Alone. He appeared on our daily podcast for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal and undoubtedly will again soon.

We did a series of interviews on law firm leadership and diversity efforts, including the inspiring Chair of MoFo, Larren Nashelsky, called We Will Not Be Casual Observers to Injustice; and equally inspiring programs on DEI & Law Firm Leadership with Narges Kakalia, Director of DEI at Mintz; and The Call for Universal Inclusion with Jennifer Johnson of Calibrate Legal, who points out that many law firm diversity efforts begin and end with partners and associates and fail to include staff, an area of vulnerability increasingly being called out by general counsel.

As I write this, a murder of crows came to visit, eating seed side by side with the squirrels. And now a Cooper’s Hawk has come to hang out on the lowest branch. He visits periodically but seldom gets this close or stays this long. Maybe it’s hope paying a visit.

Until next week, keep hope alive.

Richard Levick

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