Washtenaw County Bar Association Taps Nationally Acclaimed Journalist, Racial Justice Champion Bankole Thompson As Keynote Speaker for Annual Dinner Oct. 11

Bankole Thompson, a leading Black journalist and standard-bearer for economic justice, whose courageous and didactic work on the political and cultural landscape has been lauded for holding the powerful accountable, will serve as the keynote speaker for the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s 32nd Annual Bias Awareness and Inclusion Strolling Reception on Wednesday October 11 at the Weber’s Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This year’s dinner, a joint event with the Vanzetti Hamilton Bar Association (the African American Bar Association in Washtenaw County), will honor members of the community for efforts in promoting equal access to justice and implementing the recommendations of the Michigan Supreme Court Task Force on Race, Ethnic, and Gender Bias in the legal system.

“On behalf of the Race, Gender, and Ethnic Bias Awareness Committee of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, we are honored that you have agreed to be our keynote speaker at our 32nd Annual Bias Awareness and Inclusion Strolling Reception,” said Attorney Kyeena Slater, the group’s executive director in a letter to Thompson. “It is an opportunity to take note of the strides we have made and the challenges that still face us. We are pleased that you accepted our invitation, and we look forward to hearing you speak.” 

WCBA organized in 1894, and incorporated in 1981, is a professional organization which bills itself as a legal group of over 650 lawyers, judges and paralegals in Washtenaw County. 

Thompson, who writes and speaks with the force of history, plans to discuss the fierce urgency of now and the need to keep issues of racial equity and Affirmative Action at the forefront of the conversation around racial justice. He has condemned the Supreme Court’s ruling outlawing Affirmative Action and warned that university administrators and corporate executives should not use the ruling as a convenient crutch to relax any push for racial diversity and inclusion in the nation’s institutions. 

Thompson was recently elected to the National Board of Directors of the Atlanta-based historic Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the signature civil rights organization founded by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who served as its first president, and which led the Civil Rights Movement. He is the first journalist in the history of the SCLC to be named to the National Board of the revered organization that Dr. King personally infused his legacy into. 

Thompson was nominated for a seat on SCLC’s decision making body by board chairman Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., a veteran civil rights leader, and one of the last remaining and most trusted top lieutenants of Dr. King. LaFayette has long followed and admired Thompson’s work as a champion for racial equality.

The outspoken Detroit journalist is the executive dean and editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute, the national and independent anti-poverty think tank headquartered in Detroit, which was founded five years ago based on his influential work on race, democracy and poverty. 

Considered the columnist of conscience in the Michigan media, Thompson is a twice-a-week opinion columnist at The Detroit News, where his piercing columns about presidential politics, social and economic justice issues appear on Mondays and Thursdays in the newspaper. 

For almost a decade, he served as the powerful editor and the intellectual voice of the Michigan Chronicle, the state’s largest African American newspaper. 

In 2008, Thompson, led a groundbreaking coverage of the historic presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and became one of the first Black journalists in the nation to conduct exclusive one-on-one sit-down interviews with Obama. The interviews led to a pair of books he wrote, “Obama and Black Loyalty,” (2010) and “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” (2011) which explored the politics of the religious right and Obama’s faith posture.

His latest book is titled Fiery Conscience, a compendium of analytical essays about his more than two decades of speaking truth to power in the media. The book which was released last month has drawn praise around the country including from 2022 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Sister Simone Campbell to renowned advocates and captains of industry.

The Center for Racial Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, one of nation’s most prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities founded during Reconstruction, and the alma mater of many Black luminaries including the renowned academic administrator Ruth Simmons, has invited him for a book signing and to deliver a leadership talk on media, race and democracy based on the book on Thursday October 5.

Janis F. Kearney, former newspaper publisher in Arkansas, who served as the first Presidential Diarist at the White House under President Bill Clinton, wrote the book’s epilogue.

“It is gratifying for a native of the Arkansas Delta region and child of cotton sharecroppers to know that we still have a social commentator and leader who remains an unapologetic advocate for the poor and downtrodden. While American politics is oftentimes a murky, messy undertaking; the practical, realistic, yet hopeful Bankole Thompson knows that good politics can mean social and economic change for the masses. And, that good politics can result in policies, laws and civil actions that make life better for the least of us and addresses the dignity of all—including America’s poorest,” Kearney wrote. “But, good politics doesn’t just happen. It needs advocacy and fiery voices like Bankole Thompson’s. Voices that worry the lawmakers at night, that remain, like earworms in their subconscious as they make and act on decisions that are crucial and life-changing for everyday Americans.”

A cultural and political commentator, Thompson, has appeared on national networks such as CNN during the presidential election discussing Black America, Detroit and the future of American democracy. 

For example in 2019, on the eve of the Democratic Presidential Debate, Thompson appeared with David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama to examine how the critical Black vote will play in the election.

In 2020, when then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate, Thompson, who was strongly advocating for a racially diverse ticket was invited by CNN to respond to the selection of Harris as the first Black woman on a VP ticket. 

In January of 2018, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, honored Thompson with the “Let Freedom Ring Journalism Award,” to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. In the recognition, Jackson noted how Thompson has been an effective advocate for economic and racial justice matters, and noted that perhaps no other Black journalist in the modern era in Detroit, one of the nation’s largest Black cities, has pushed the envelope for equality with clarity, vigor and courage as Thompson has done.

A sought after speaker, Thompson, has addressed many leading organizations in the nation including the Providence NAACP 98th Freedom Fund Dinner and the American Jewish Committee (AJC)  Detroit Region Annual Distinguished Leadership Dinner. He was a speaker at the 2011 Federal Bench and Bar Conference for the Eastern District of Michigan as well as the 2010 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. 

Last year, he delivered the keynote address for Brown University Forum on Race and Democracy in the Era of Black Lives Matter as part of the Ivy League school’s Black History Month program, where President Christina Paxson gave the opening and closing remarks. During his speech which centered on the theme, “Why Major Institutions Must Address the Fierce Urgency of Racial Justice,” Thompson challenged Brown, whose linked to slavery is documented, to be a resourceful and reliable ally in the modern Black freedom struggle.

In 2020, Bankole Thompson, accepted the invitation of Dr. William G. Anderson, one of the leaders of the Albany civil rights movement in Georgia, and who worked with Dr. King, to deliver the keynote address for the 20th Dr. William G. Anderson Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey Lecture Series at Michigan State University. The series’ previous speakers include late civil rights heroes Harry Belafonte and Congressman John Lewis. 

His address at the East Lansing campus was titled, “Black Lamentations: The Redemptive Need for Healing in American Democracy.” 

Thompson is expected to sign copies of his new book at the Washtenaw County Bar Association dinner. 

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