Published on February 22, 2018 by Morgan Black  
Thurgood Marshall

Samford University’s Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives and Cumberland School of Law’s Black Law Students Association presented the 24th annual Thurgood Marshall Symposium recently.

The symposium, one of several events during the 2017-18 academic year commemorating the 50th anniversary of integration at Samford, focused on the theme “Integrating Spaces: A Reflection on the Past, Present and Future.”

Cheri L. Beasley, associate justice for the North Carolina State Supreme Court, delivered the symposium’s keynote message.

Introduced by law school friend and Cumberland Assistant Dean Cassandra W. Adams, Beasley began with notes of her own research about Samford’s first African American graduate, Audrey Lattimore Gaston Howard. 

“Because of all of the people who went first like Audrey, we are stronger,” Beasley said. “And, because of her, I am clear that my mandate to practice law is so much bigger than myself.” 

“When I first heard of the anniversary, I was shocked. Think about it...50 years is really not that long ago,” said event chair Denzel Okinedo. “Audrey Gaston Howard was not only the first African American at the university, but she was also one of two females at the law school. She was a true trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her bravery and resilience paved the way for someone like me, an African-American male, to walk the halls of the law school with confidence in my identity, abilities and future goals. 

Beasley continued her speech with words of advice to all who were present, “Don’t walk in fear, walk in faith; there is someone around you who will show you the way if you just ask; believe in yourselves; when someone puts a stone in your way, just kick it; and, when a door closes in your face, push it open.” 

She closed with a final plea to attendees, “Take up the mantle and accept the charge.” 

“The symposium's ending charge was a reminder that we cannot remain complacent or complicit. Instead, we must strive to reach new heights,” Okinedo added. “To me, Justice Beasley's message was a reminder that each and every voice is important to the conversation. It's my hope that everyone who heard her was able to take her message to heart and build a better tomorrow from it.” 

The symposium closed with a presentation to Beasley by the Cumberland Black Law Students Association President Rodney Patrick followed by closing remarks by Dean Henry C.  Strickland. 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.