Previous Honorees

2019 Honorees

Champion of Diversity Award

Ricky E. Wilkins

Since the start of his legal career in Memphis 28 years ago, Ricky E. Wilkins has advocated for and preached the value of diversity and inclusion in all of his personal, professional, and civic affairs.  As the first African American lawyer hired at Burch, Porter & Johnson, PLLC, in 1990, Wilkins made it a priority to help create opportunities for other minority lawyers to follow, and he mentored many such lawyers as they began their legal careers and sought him out for advice and counsel.  He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including serving as President of the Memphis Bar Association and Chairman of the Memphis Housing Authority. In efforts to raise awareness and create opportunities for those marginalized and left out of meaningful growth opportunities, he met with and challenged CEOs and political leaders to be inclusive in the administration of their operations and areas of influence as critical to the growth and development of the Memphis community.  

When he started his own firm in 2003, Wilkins hired a diverse staff of lawyers and paralegals to provide an example of highly competent professionals working together to solve their clients’ problems.  Wilkins lends his time to area schools and colleges and mentors students of various races and ethnicities, extolling the virtues of young people working together and developing a healthy respect for the talent, abilities, and contributions from diverse communities.  Most recently, Wilkins founded MemPower, an economic and political empowerment initiative that seeks to engage all people of goodwill in embracing a culture of fairness and inclusion in public and private affairs to improve the lives and conditions of those struggling at the bottom of our community.  Wilkins believes that, “with a diverse cadre of people working together, we are better equipped to tackle the myriad of issues that undermine our City’s growth.” Wilkins is committed to reaching out, without regard to race, ethnicity, or any other superficial lines that divide, in order to create a climate that values all, loves all, and works with all for the betterment of all.

2017 Honorees

Champion of Diversity Award

Honorable Bernice B. Donald

THE HONORABLE BERNICE B. DONALD, a Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, nominated by President Barak Hussein Obama and confirmed by the Senate on September 6, 2011, became the first African American woman to serve on that court. When elected to the Shelby County General Sessions Criminal Court in 1982, Judge Donald became the first African American woman to serve as a judge in the history of the state of Tennessee. In June of 1988, Judge Donald became the first African American woman to serve as a bankruptcy judge in the history of the United States. She previously served as the President of the American Bar Foundation, where she was the first African American to hold that position. In August of 2011, she concluded a three-year term as Secretary of the American Bar Association, where she was the first African American woman to serve as an officer in the history of the organization. She was also the first woman to chair the American Bar Association’s Commission on Diversity from 1994-1997.

In the spirit of celebrating the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession, Judge Donald created the Spirit of Excellence Award presented by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Diversity for the first time in 1996. This award is now the flagship event during the American Bar Association mid-year meeting and was presented to Judge Donald in 2011. She has trained lawyers and judges on implicit bias in and out of the courtroom in order to enhance justice and increase success in our justice system. Among many other accomplishments, Judge Donald has received numerous awards for her efforts in diversity.

Excellence in Diversity Awards

Daniel Kiel, Individual Award

A native Memphian, Kiel is an associate Professor of Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law where his work centers on inequality in the education system, particularly along lines of race. His research examines efforts to reduce educational disparities, including both the historical era of desegregation and more modern efforts to reform the structure of public education. Mr. Kiel obtained his B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and his J.D. from Harvard Law School. 

In 2011, Professor Kiel built upon his work on school desegregation in Memphis through an oral history project that culminated in The Memphis 13, a documentary film he wrote and directed sharing the stories of the first students to desegregate public schools in Memphis in 1961. The film premiered at the National Civil Rights Museum on the 50th anniversary of that historic event and has been featured at film festivals, universities, and museums across the country.

For his work on schooling in Memphis, Mr. Kiel has been cited in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Education Week, and was awarded the 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award by the University of Memphis. In 2015, Mr. Kiel was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to undertake comparative research on educational disparities in South Africa and was hosted during his months there at the University of the Free State. Prior to entering teaching, Kiel worked in private practice doing civil litigation at firms in Boston and Memphis, including Burch, Porter, & Johnson. Kiel serves on the boards of Facing History and Ourselves and Just City, and was founding steering committee member of the Common Ground Memphis. 

Sydney Trujillo, Individual Award

A native of Crossville, Tennessee, Sydney Trujillo received her Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in May 2017. While in law school, Ms. Trujillo served as the President of the Law School’s Student Bar Association, the student organization representing all Memphis Law students. As president, Ms. Trujillo made it her mission to foster the includion of all students and to promot the mental health and stress reduction of students overall. Through the SBA Wellness Wednesday program, Ms. Trujillo worked tirelessly to reduce the stigma of mental illness within the law school by creating programs to emphasize emotional and mental health in the legal profession and self-care. Additionally Ms. Trujillo played an integral role in securing an on-site counselor at the Law School to address the overwhelming stress that many law students face in a competitive, and often stressful, academic environment. 

Ms. Trujillo received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Political Science from Carson Newman College. She is a proud member of the LGBT community and has a heart for advocating on behalf of individuals with mental health disabilities. Ms. Trujillo now works as a staff attorney for Memphis Area Legal Services.

Nicholas Whiteside, Individual Award

A Memphis native, Nicholas Whiteside is a graduate of Hillcrest High School and former participant in REACH Memphis, a non-profit organization established in 1969 to enable public high school students in Memphis to reach new heights by leveraging a summer program experience into a college preparatory one with boarding schools and colleges across the United States. Every summer students participate in a rigorous academic program at respected schools, such as Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, along side students from around the world, including Japan, France, Germany, and Jordan. During the program, they get to share their life experiences and find their own value in a global world through education, diversity, and community involvement. Perhaps most important, they have the space to realize their gifts and potential. 

During his time in the REACH program, Mr. Whiteside lent his voice to programming that supports academics, life skills, and diversity needs of the students served by REACH. While at his Summer Experience at Phillips Exeter, Nicholas took steps to break down stereotypes by facilitating a round table discussion group where students from diverse backgrounds could speak candidly about stereotypes. Mr. Whiteside’s passion for diversity lef him to be selected to represent REACH Memphis in a panel discussion held by the Grizzlies Foundation as part of their events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As Senior Class President, Mr. Whiteside used his platform to encourage other students to be great and strive for their best. As said by Mr. Whiteside himself, “from the Whitehaven community to the White House, I look forward to the journey ahead.”

Mr. Whiteside is now a sophomore at Fisk University where he is majoring in Accounting and has continued to maintain excellent grades.   

Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc., Non-Profit Award

The Memphis Area Legal Services, Inc. (MALS) existence stems from one of the most tragic events of our time – the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After Dr. King’s death, members of the Memphis legal community planted the seed that blossomed into MALS. Since that time, MALS has evolved into one of the preeminent law firms providing civil legal assistance to low-income individuals, families, and seniors in this country. Firmly planted as an essential component of the equal justice network, MALS has distinguished itself as an aggressive advocate for those in need. “Diversity” is part of its fabric, a core value that is viewed as a strength that permeates its culture as reflected in staffing and programmatic decisions. Quoting from its Values Statement, “MALS embraces Diversity by appreciating and understanding all people and by being culturally sensitive and competent. . . Diversity is informed by being inclusive of all the types of clients, staff and services.”

Putting this into practice, MALS is led by the only African-American CEO of a non-profit law firm in the state of Tennessee. It provides counsel, advice, representation, and advocacy to thousands of in the Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette and Lauderdale counties. MALS’ staff is 70% female and serves a client population that is over 70% minority. The attorney staff is 50% white and 50% people of color. Its Board of Directors is comprised of a diverse group of women and men, lawyers and non-lawyers, and corporate, civic, and community leaders. Needless to say, MALS’ commitment to diversity and inclusion remains unequivocal. 

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Corporate Award

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is an integrated, not-for-profit healthcare system based in Memphis, Tennessee, with locations and partners across the Mid-South. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is grounded in its faith-based Mission, Vision, Values, and its Power of One Culture focused on delivering outstanding patient- and family-centered care. This is foundational to Methodist’s commitment to create and maintain an environment that values and respects individual differences and unique contributions among its patients and families, Associates, physicians, business partners and the communities its serves. Memphis and the Mid-South is a very diverse community. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare believes it is important for its Associate population to mirror the diversity of the patients its serves. 

As a reflection of its Power of One culture, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare ranked #1 on Great Places to Work and Fortune’s 2016 national list of Best Workplaces for African Americans. Methodist also ranked #21 on the 2016 Best Workplaces for Diversity list. This listing is based on employee’s assessments of workplace fairness, opportunities for training, and access to senior leadership, among other factors. 

Horne and Wells, PLLC, Small Firm Award

Horne and Wells, PLLC was founded on the premise that justice and equality were not notions, but mandates. Horne & Wells was created by friends, Arthur Horne and Murray Wells, who recognized the importance of substance and action over financial gain. A diverse firm evolved, and continues to evolve.

For nearly two decades, Horne & Wells has fought tirelessly for the rights of the under-represented and its has proved to be a formula for success for clients and the firm. Horne & Wells is committed to hiring those who reflect the people they represent. Each year, the firm participates in educating our youth by sponsoring high school students in law firms for six weeks, allowing them to gain early exposure to the practice of law. Horne & Wells strongly believes that justice requires a blindfold and an understanding of our history. The firm also recognizes that while our city will always be diverse, it should never be a benchmark of human definition. Instead, it is simply the very best thing about our community.

Burch, Porter & Johnson, Large Firm Award

Burch, Porter & Johnson has been a pillar of the Memphis legal community throughout its history, representing both business clients and individuals in a wide range of significant matters. It has also been at the forefront of matters of historical importance, representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Memphis sanitation workers’ march in 1968. 

Burch, Porter & Johnson is committed to promoting diversity, and recognizes that individuals of varying races, cultures and backgrounds offer varying perspectives that both enhance the workplace and improve client service. The firm’s commitment to diversity is reflected in its active recruitment efforts of qualified minority applicants, and in the support its attorneys offer to numerous community organizations. The firm has a Diverse Committee whose mission is to not only assist with recruiting efforts, but also to promote the firm’s objectives within the workplace. Burch, Porter & Johnson encourage applications from all persons regardless of their race, sex, religion, age, disability, or national origin.

Burch, Porter & Johnson is honored to support attorney participation and involvement in organizations including: Memphis Bar Association’s Summer Intern Program; Black Law Students Association; Minority Business Council; Big Brothers Big Sisters; National Civil Rights Museum; Community Legal Center; Memphis Area Legal Services; Memphis Challenge; and local bar associations.