National Bar Institute

In the struggle for social change and progress in the legal profession, the National Bar Institute (NBI) has emerged as a vehicle that is determined to advance the understanding and practice of law amongst African-Americans and other minority groups. The NBI is the philanthropic arm of the National Bar Association (NBA). Founded in 1982 by members of the NBA, the oldest and largest professional organization of lawyers and judges of color in the world, the NBI shares the same passion and commitment for advancing minorities in the legal profession by promoting research, education and study.

The NBI was established to facilitate the public's understanding of contemporary legal issues, to ensure quality legal educational opportunities for all Americans and to enhance the quality of legal services provided to people of color and the poor.

As a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, contributions to the NBI are tax-deductible. The NBI receives donations and contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. In fulfilling its mission, the NBI has established objectives that call for securing the financial future of the NBA, supporting law students and educational programs, and supporting important litigation that broadly impacts the public. It also aims to support initiatives that improve the administration of justice and promote high ethical standards for lawyers and judges. It supports educational lectures, publications and scholarly writings as well.

"We encourage lawyers, judges, law professors and the public to support the NBI," says Harold D. Pope, chair of the NBI and NBA past president. "Our successes benefit society in general, not just the legal profession."

Since its founding a little more than 20 years ago, the NBI has grown in many ways, working very hard to endow itself and launch many of the popular programs and scholarships it administers today. In addition to funding the headquarters of the NBA and legal publications, including this special issue of the NBA Magazine commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, the NBI supports such programs as the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) Frederick Douglas Moot Court Competition, National Conference on African American Women and the Law, and the Council for Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO).

The NBI awards its African American Law Student Fellowship to academically promising second-year law students with a proven commitment to social justice and an intention of practicing law in a historically under-served community. The fellowships range from $1,000 to $10,000. Freida L. Wheaton, NBI grants committee chair for several years says, "We are proud to help influence the next generation of lawyers. Thus, we encourage students to submit completed applications before the May 15th deadline. The NBI is making a robust appeal to students attending law school at historically black colleges and universities."

The NBI's Lucia Thomas Public Image Action Grant provides seed money to NBA Affiliate Chapters and Subdivisions for programs that promote education, equity among the races, and/or improve the image of lawyers. The proposed activity must have direct and demonstrated community or public impact. The grants are awarded through a competitive grant application process.

In 1999, the NBI established the A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Endowed Law Fellowship to help increase minority enrollment and matriculation through law school. This endowment, still in the developmental stage, received initial funding of $50,000 from proceeds of the A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. Awards Gala held in 2002 in New York City. The overwhelming success of the Awards Gala is attributed to honorary co-chairs Johnnie Cochran and Willie E. Gary. The first Higginbotham Fellows will be named in 2005. Building the NBI's financial foundation has been hard work but culturally enriching. In 1994, under the leadership of NBI Chair Ernestine Sapp, the NBI launched the Jacob Lawrence Art Project commissioning renowned artist Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence produced "Lawyers and Clients", a limited edition work that continues to generate proceeds from the sale of serigraphs, prints, posters and note cards. Since Lawrence's death in 2000, his art, including that commissioned by the NBI, has increased significantly in value.

The NBI has benefited from numerous funding campaigns. The most ambitious is Endowment 2000, launched by NBA past president H.T. Smith, with a goal to raise one million dollars ($1,000,000). The excitement of Endowment 2000 was spurred by a $100,000 donation from attorney Willie E. Gary. Endowment 2000 Chair Linnes Finney, Jr. remarks, "We have not yet met our goal of one million dollars, however. Every lawyer and judge - and every friend of the NBA and NBI - is urged to make or fulfill their thousand dollar pledges this year." The NBI has also received donations from book sales by authors such as Fred D. Gray, Sr., former NBI Chair and NBA past president. Gray donated receipts from the sale of his book "Bus Ride to Justice."

In 2003, General Motors donated a Cadillac CTS that was raffled at the NBA annual convention. All proceeds went to the NBI's scholarship programs.

One of the NBI's largest supporters today is Ford Motor Company Fund, which sponsors the NBA Crump Law Camp and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition for high school seniors who have been accepted for admission by a college or university. The Law Camp is a hallmark achievement of the NBA and NBI. "All of the NBI programs are important," says NBI Chair Pope, who facilitated the contributions from Ford. "We are particularly proud about the generosity of Ford Motor Company, which helped establish the Law Camp in 2000." The Crump Law Camp has taught over 100 campers. In 2003, the Law Camp received the American Bar Association Partnership Award for its diversity efforts.

The MLK Advocacy Competition provides grants for regional high school seniors and their chaperones to attend the NBA convention where the final stage of the competition is held. A distinguished panel of lawyers and judges reviews the written essays and listens to the oral arguments on selected contemporary law topics. Each participant receives at least a $500 scholarship; the first, second and third place finishers receive four-year scholarships of up to $2,500 annually.

The NBI Golf Tournament is a popular fundraiser, generating not only substantial proceeds, but bragging rights for men and women golfers from year-to-year. FedEx, now in its fifth year as title sponsor of the NBI Golf Tournament, leads a long list of other sponsors, including PGA America, Kraft Foods, Citigroup, Anheuser Busch and Attorney Lorenzo Williams. Through its Youth Golf Clinic, the NBI offers up to 30 local girls and boys the unique opportunity to socialize on the golf course with lawyers and judges. They also receive personalized instruction from golf professionals such as Leonard Jones and Calvin Peete. The tournament is held on Thursday during the NBA convention week. "The tournament is important although always fun," says Nathaniel Lee who is a frequent winner. "It is a great way to give to the NBI."

The NBI has partnered with many organizations and will continue to grow and play an increasingly significant role in the future of the NBA and the legal profession.