Perspectives KD Attorneys Reflect On Their Experiences With Racism And Their Hopes For The Future


It was a usual and busy Tuesday afternoon when two colleagues walked into my office and closed the door. Their tear‐stained faces alarmed me. It was confusing at first, but they revealed to me how George Floyd’s tragic death upset them. They didn’t know Mr. Floyd, and yet, they were deeply wounded ‐‐ not just by that tragedy, but also the recent incidents involving Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others. I too was outraged after witnessing Mr. Floyd’s death and the callousness of it.

In the moment of our shared lament, I realized that as a white person, my privilege had shielded me from the depth of their personal experiences. I was sitting in my office that afternoon, working a normal day, carrying on with my daily tasks, being unaware of the deep emotions others in my office were feeling. But when they came into my office, I listened. I mean, I really listened to their personal experiences and descriptions of the injustices they lived. Friends, racism is America’s greatest sin. As a society, we haven’t done enough to eradicate the atrocities of our past. As an individual, I haven’t done enough to change this systemic problem.

That afternoon, I heard the anguish in the voices of my colleagues, and knew I had to speak out. I learned how differently they viewed Mr. Floyd’s death than I did. I was affected by watching a human take his last breath but not with the same deep seated emotion of a historical nature as they did. When we stop and listen to one another, we learn why we must all act now to create change. Change starts with one person. We must continue to talk about racism and understand the perspectives of others. Each of us can be the change our community needs that is generations overdue.

In the legal field, we strive for “justice for all.” Sadly, we are not there yet. This series of Perspectives was born from the tears and laments from that summer afternoon in a Kubicki Draper office.

It is our hope the raw experiences and truths shared below inspire us to make justice true for all.

Foreward by: Kendra Therrell, Jacksonville

More About Kendra

Charles H. Watkins, Miami

I grew up in a family where achievement was expected. Nobody pressured you to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer, or an accountant, or a teacher ‐‐ we have all these in our family. But, you knew early on that whatever your choice was, you had better be amongst the best, if not the best! I dreaded when my report card came home because I can still hear my father’s booming voice asking: “top of the class?” There were no excuses. Yet, in every family there is a “black sheep” or two, a revolutionary, a change agent, and early I decided it was to be me. I loved sports and a good time, so naturally I thought, “I shall become a businessman.” These things all seemed to go together. The only family member who was any good at sports was Uncle Frank, who played soccer for the National team, but was an outcast.

Needless to say, my dalliance with sports and a good time was not looked upon with pleasure ‐‐ especially by my father. So, I was shipped off to the United States for college but really with the hope of me finding my path.

Jamaica was by no means a place free of racism. Indeed it has a vicious history of sugar cane slavery (supposedly the worst kind) and colonialism, but colonialism while terrible, was no “Jim Crow.”

I came to Miami in January 1977 to attend University. I quickly became aware that what was my somewhat favored status, was now gone. I was just another Black guy the larger society thought nothing of. I was invisible. I counted for less. I did well in my arts and business courses, not so well with math and science courses. I was particularly good with philosophy. It was there I confronted racism and bias first. I helped a White girl write her paper. She was lost in the class. Her paper received an A+; my paper received a B+. When I confronted the White professor, he simply and only said: “you should be glad with what you got.” I didn’t challenge it further, I got the message!

This experience and dozens of others in my 43 years living in the United States hardened my resolve, and thus, I found the family tradition, excellence at all costs. I went on to graduate with a B.S. in Marketing and a Master’s in International Business (MIB) from Florida International University, being honored as the most outstanding student in the International Business Program. I prospered in my first career in insurance and later graduated from University of Miami’s law school night program ‐‐ a four year program in three years, while working full time. Then, I joined Kubicki Draper working with and for my mentor and friend, Dan Draper.

So friends, along the way I learned a few things: there are good and bad people of every race, national origin, religion, gender and color. Don’t waste time with those who would judge you for your outward appearance. It is their ignorance and stupidity that needs to be pitied.

In today’s world, the problems are too complex to practice only with like minds. Diversity among decision makers leads to better outcomes, and businesses that are diverse, do better. Know what you want, but even more importantly, know what you don’t want! Work like hell, never giving up, always getting back up, staying laser focused on achieving what you want and disdaining what you don’t want. This attitude allowed me to enlist allies of all races, colors, genders, religions and nationalities to be my mentors and sponsors. You will see in this life, only fools run from good.

Lastly, help everybody you can to achieve all they can, with as much fairness and energy you can. Let your faith be your guide, never giving up the struggle. As John Lewis was apt to say, “let’s get into some good trouble!”

More About Charles

Sha‐Mekeyia Davis, Ft. Lauderdale

As a Black woman, I often experience heart-wrenching moments of being stopped dead in my tracks, left to face either explicit racism or micro‐aggressions with a subtle nod to an implicit bias. I have heard and experienced it all — from my name being “too black,” to having to ward off people that find it necessary to have those “you people” conversations. Being Black in America can be quite exhausting.

There are places I can patronize today that my own parents couldn’t visit during their youth. Growing up, my paternal grandparents kept the very last batch of cotton they ever picked at the front door of their home as a reminder of where we came from and to serve as a not‐so gentle push to always strive beyond excellence. But, it also was a stark reminder that I’m actually not that far removed from the injustices they faced. While progress has been made, there’s still so much more work to be done.

One of the most shocking experiences I had with racism was while a student at the University of Florida. I remember my roommates and I had what we believed to be a great idea at the time ‐‐ to adopt a rabbit and house her in our dorm. We were so gleeful on the way to pick up our new friend right outside of Gainesville, until we were quickly mortified by the sight of nooses hanging from trees. It was 2007. That very day I was reminded — we are not all seen as equal. Being Black in America can be terrifying.

Every day is a day I’m fighting against racism or implicit bias, but I stand proud of my Black identity and hold my title as a Black woman with reverence and esteem. The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were scenes all too familiar to the Black community. But, this time there’s hope the end result will be different. We, as a people, cannot continue to allow these horrendous acts of racism and police brutality. Our struggle has come to the forefront. Cries are being heard, and people are urging change while pledging their allegiance to equality and justice for all. Being Black in America also matters.

More About Sha-Mekeyia

Jonathan O. Aihie, Miami

I believe that pain is a precursor for purpose. While reflecting on the current events, as painful as it has been, I have thought about my few encounters with prejudice and racism. Two come to mind.

First, during my undergraduate tenure at Florida State University, I went to an oncampus ATM after one of my classes. I wore a variation of my undergraduate uniform— FSU pullover, basketball shorts, slides, and FSU embroidered socks. I also had an FSU embroidered backpack and I was carrying books in my hand. I was an FSU student! There was another student — a white female—standing at the ATM. When the other student made eye contact with me as I approached the ATM, she began to run as if I were her assailant with an assault rifle. I resisted the urge to chase her (laughs). But, what if she called the police because my presence sparked her fear like Amy Cooper? What would have been the ramifications of being a big black man on campus in that moment, despite being an honor student?

I suspect that if the police were called during that incident, the situation would have been similar or worse to another encounter that I experienced with racism while in law school in Cleveland, Ohio. On a random Saturday night, I went to a nightclub with a group of my friends (four black men and one white man) ‐‐ commonly known as the “Goodfellas.” As the clubclosed, my friends and I headed to my car. Somehow we lost our white friend, Sean, as we exited the nightclub. While waiting for Sean, we played music as our last attempt to appeal to the women who were exiting the nightclub. It wasn’t long before an officer came over and ordered us to turn off the music and leave. We immediately turned off the music and attempted to explain to the officer that we were law students, and we were waiting on our friend Sean before we could leave. The officer became enraged and called for backup. Within minutes, seven or eight officers arrived on the scene with their hands on their gun holsters. I still do not know why the situation escalated, but I have my suspicions. Sean eventually came out of the nightclub, and he immediately went up to the officers and explained that we were fellow law students. In an instance, the whole situation de‐escalated, and the officers let us leave without any consequences.

Even though those experiences were unpleasant in the moment, unlike George Floyd, I can breathe. And, as long as I have breath, I will remain hopeful that change will come and Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream will become a reality for all people regardless of their race, color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or gender. I will use my voice and my position to stand up for justice and righteousness, and hopefully, find purpose along the way. In closing, Black Lives Matter.

More About Jonathan

Cassandra D. Smith, Jacksonville

Many people read the headlines of systemic racism within law enforcement and police brutality from the safety of comfort of own homes, never having to personally experience it. But, for many of us, it’s an all too common reality that at any moment, we could be the next headline. I’ll never forget the moment I learned that a member of my family was a victim of police brutality. He had been pulled over in a predominately white community because his headlights were “improper.” What should have been a simple stop escalated when the white deputies unjustifiably beat and tased him. Unfortunately, their actions had no consequences, unlike my family member who still carries the scars to this day. I struggled in silence for years knowing that those officers got away with their heinous acts. Three years after the incident, I began working as an assistant state attorney in the same county with the same police agency. I could never bring myself to look up my family member’s case because it was too painful. I still live with the sadness and fear that what happened to my family member could easily happen to any one of us in the black community despite our careers, backgrounds, or accomplishments.

When I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered, it immediately brought me back to that moment. I felt like it was my own family member. A week later, I listened in on the preliminary probable cause hearing for the killers of Ahmaud Arbery. I broke down when I heard how he was hunted and killed by men acting as if they were law enforcement. Each and every time this happens, it hits close to home for us because we have fathers, uncles, brothers, and boyfriends who look like these victims. This is our unfortunate reality. Despite this reality, these experiences have shaped me into an even more empathetic and compassionate person. It reinforced what I was taught as a child: not to judge anyone by their outward appearance.

When I served as an assistant state attorney, I made it my goal not to secure a conviction, but to uncover the truth and act accordingly so that justice would be served. Sometimes that meant declining to prosecute a person or simply giving them a second chance. Compassion and empathy were two of the most important traits that I utilized then and continue to utilize today. I make it my duty to reach out to others who do not have the same background or beliefs as me. I believe we all have much more in common than we think. All we have to do is: be willing to sit down at the table, open our hearts, and listen to others. When this happens, I believe true change will come.

More About Cassandra

Alvis L. Horne, II, Tampa

A Not So Unique Perspective. My grandmother has been spit on — her friend’s genitals mutilated based on racist rumor alone. My mother’s dorm room was set on fire during desegregation. I have been called a nigger. You’ve heard such stories before, but they didn’t compel you to use your power. It is for that reason I fear, you may be too desensitized to feel this one. This is a different type of story: an example of one of prejudice’s most pernicious progeny — ignorance.

Years ago, I had an employer who was an avid FSU football fan and, like most fans, she particularly enjoyed the rivalry between FSU and the Miami Hurricanes. The Miami Hurricanes have something called the Turnover Chain — a huge, gilded chain, gaudy enough for the fans in the “nosebleeds” to see. For the Hurricanes, wearing the chain was a mark of achievement.

My former employer, in an attempt to encourage productivity, thought creating a Turnover Chain within our department was brilliant. The person who consistently “turned over” the highest numbers for an entire month would be allowed to wear the chain. The problem was not in the idea, but in its execution.

The name of our section began with the letter “N.” So, she decided she was going to create a BIG, GOLD CHAIN, WITH THE SYMBOLIC LETTER “N” on it to represent the achievement in our section.

Chains have varying meanings within the African American community and are inherently innocuous. However, a chain with a bulky, foot‐long, capital letter “N” affixed to it has an intensely racist overtone. It evokes images of bondage, of racism, of pain.

Upon the first presentation of that chain, I’ll never forget that bewildered look of indignation on the faces of the few African Americans in the room. I’ll never forget the apprehensive applause of my white friends and informed colleagues who knew of its implications. To me, more oppressive than any overtly racist acts are the stifling effects of unconscious biases, subtly racist attitudes and, in this case, ignorance of a culture. This ignorance allows people to ostrich their way out of accountability by attributing other rationale to the source of stagnation. After all, why is it that I exhaust a great deal of time emulating her culture so as to be understood, but she was so oblivious to one of the most fundamental aspects of mine?

From this experience, I learned a lesson Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expounded upon in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: it is not the overt racist who keeps America stagnant on this problem; it is those moderates who scrupulously devote themselves to maintaining their comfort by refusing to participate in — or worse, feigning unawareness of — anything disruptive of their status quo.

Certainly, for her, this memory has been relegated to some forgotten place where memories of inconsequence lie, but it will stay with me forever. She was not only at a loss as to why I refused to wear the chain, but also as to why I insisted on winning it every single month that I was there. It was to ensure that every month I could shove it in a drawer unseen.

More About Alvis

Ciera C. Gainey, Jacksonville

To sum up the African American experience in one instance would be impossible. For an African American, racism is not an isolated moment in time, but something we live through every day. Systemic racism exists in the housing market, the education system, the justice system, the healthcare system, the job market, and countless industries across the country. Knowing this as a child, it was my personal goal to strive past the systems that negatively affected the generations before me.

As a young freshman on my college campus, I was eager to venture out in hopes of becoming the first person in my family to graduate from college. Students, staff, and local fans were gearing up for the first football game of the season, and I refused to be left out of the excitement. I purchased my game ticket and saturated myself with every piece of school paraphernalia I could find. My friends and I entered the stadium on game day and proceeded to the student section. We took our seats, and shortly after, a group of white males approached us, requesting that we “get out of their seats.” One of the men then turned and referred to me using a racial slur. At that moment, I completely froze. I was in shock and disbelief. It became apparent to me that I was living the reality of what I thought was only a page in my grade school history books. I am sure the white males we encountered went on to enjoy the football game. For them, it was just a moment in time. For me (and my fellow African American friends), it wasn’t that simple. I relived the anger and hurt from that moment for much of my freshman year.

This story is just one of many instances where I have encountered racism in my lifetime. Racism is not an illusion. It is as present today as it was in our history books. It is crucial to understand and recognize this perspective as we search for reconciliation. Since we know a person’s experiences influence perspective, we each can stand to learn from the experiences of others. My colleagues and I have volunteered to tell our stories and share our journeys to create a space where we can learn from one another. Sharing life journeys brings about awareness, empathy, and camaraderie. Camaraderie is needed now more than ever before. We need to unify as a nation. I believe that discussing the experiences that exist behind us will change the perception of what we see in front of us.

More About Ciera

Wallace L. Richardson, Orlando

There is a truth to life! Life is precious, mysterious, exciting, invigorating, loving, nurturing, and a gift from God! It strikes me when others don’t care about life.

As a “Black” man, or Black person, in my observations, I have learned that Black people’s lives, are not as valued in society. Even as a child watching TV, it always seemed strange to me why they would show those typical slave movies. Who really wants to see that or be reminded of those times ‐‐ were those times really gone or was it a reminder? As a Black child, watching those movies did no justice to boost one’s self worth. To me, it’s not a good thing to re-show.

I have learned that Black families all have a horrid tale of why to fear the police and how bad things happen when police are called. It was always taught, calling the police is to be a last resort.

My Black friends, have always felt, whether in school or at work, that there was more pressure to either be an overachiever or to study harder because there was fear that they had to prove something more than just being competent.

I have seen from a medical perspective that Black families tend to have histories of hypertension, high‐blood pressure, strokes, or heart‐attacks. When you grow up, you don’t expect to get those things grandma had, but over time, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize these diseases are all triggered by a highly stressful life.

When we all saw the George Floyd video, it was very easy to understand how the slogan “I can’t breathe” has become a theme of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Not all satire is funny, but the joke of the value of Black lives was already well played out in social media. In psychology, they call it a self‐fulfilling prophecy.

As a lover of life, until we all come to the true understanding and love for the beauty of the different colors of the flowers in the world, one remains blinded by disturbia. Variety is the spice of life and representative in all things in the beautiful world.

If you always treat others the same way you would like to be treated, then you do well but, if you treat them differently, then you do wrong. It’s that simple.

More About Wallace