June 30, 2019
June 2019: Juan Thomas
Juan Thomas (he/him)
Member, ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter Board of Directors
Today, my generation sits under trees we did not plant and enjoys the shade that protects us from the piercing rays of “white only signs,” the biting of police dogs, and having never been escorted into a school by the National Guard. My great-grandmother owned a restaurant in Yazoo City, Mississippi in the 1950’s and was ran out of town having to flee to Ohio because she signed a NAACP petition demanding that blacks be allowed to register to vote. White vendors refused to sell food products to her because she believed that she and those who looked like her should have the right to vote. I know the blessing of eating fruit from trees that she, my grandparents’ and parents’ generation seeded and grew for their children. My generation, born between 1965 and 1980 – have no memory of Malcolm X being gunned down by his “brothers” in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, or of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final sermon on a rainy night in Memphis on April 3, 1968, or of Apollo 11 landing safely on the moon that permitted Neil Armstrong to take those first steps on July 20, 1969.
Even though much progress has been made to advance the cause of civil rights and social justice over the past 50 years, we still live in a country where unarmed black men are considered dangerous and are being killed. Communities of color in urban, and in some instances suburban, areas are plagued with crime and drugs. The need for comprehensive immigration reform and racial tensions remains ever present in the words of Maya Angelou, These Yet to Be United States of America. Too many people in America appear to be threatened by the “browning of the nation” and yearn to return to a far-off time of the 1940s and 1950s. Over the past few decades the debate over the misapplication of the rule of law within our communities has been at a low, but consistent, whisper. The whisper has now risen to a roar. It has moved from theoretical dialogues and roundtable discussions, to a touch-point which engenders a passion that reaches to the very core of who we are as a nation—and to the extent that these issues are the very foundation that we were built upon—we certainly need progressive minded lawyers and leaders who are committed to making America as good as its promise.
When I served as President of the National Bar Association, I said then and repeat now that our nation is amid a crisis of consciousness, a crisis of competence, and a crisis of character. Given these present-day realities, I am drawn to the important work of the American Constitution Society (ACS). ACS is a place I have found best equipped for me to continue to serve in an era where attacking reason, truth, and the rule of law have been normalized.
In my role as the Director of Lawyer Outreach for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter, I will do my part to recruit other like-minded lawyers to engage and participate in the work of ACS in Chicago and throughout the State of Illinois. Our city faces unique challenges with gun violence which is tied to poverty and the disinvestment in communities of color. Chicago is losing its population due to these and other issues that impact our region. ACS provides a crucial stage to amplify progressive values in the Chicago region. I’m honored to be a member of such a distinguished and remarkable organization. ACS has provided me with the information, resources and relationships to continue to serve this present age.
Juan R. Thomas is Of Counsel to Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., and is the founder and principal of the Thomas Law Group. Mr. Thomas' practice includes the following specialties: real estate/estate planning, labor and employment, and family law. In addition, Mr. Thomas provides counseling and training to firm clients in areas involving personnel, collective bargaining, and business development matters. Mr. Thomas is a Past President of the National Bar Association (NBA) having served as the Association’s 75th President during the 2017-18 bar year. The National Bar Association is the largest Association of African American lawyers, judges, and law students in the United States with a professional network of over 65,000 people.