Published: Oct. 27, 2020 By

Velveta Golightly-HowellE Pluribus Unum, a Latin term, translates as out of many, one. This term appears on the Great Seal of the United States and coinage produced before 1956. Learning that E Pluribus Unum once served as the country’s de facto mantra made it more interesting. I am a civil rights and social justice advocate and activist and one who captures thoughts and emotions in poetry. The phrase out of many, one guides my life and works.

As a closely sheltered child reared in a Black, family-oriented community, two truths became indelibly engraved in my mind. All people are "created equal," and none have powers superseding those of my Creator’s. At ages 6 and 7, two encounters with racial hate and injustice pierced my innocence and with indescribable force stripped away Nirvana. Yet they strengthened my fortitude to realize my purpose. I am here to do whatever possible to destroy the cancers of racial injustice, racism, and other "isms" plaguing society. I cannot speak to the importance of diversity without first acknowledging that the mere addition of nonwhite and other marginalized populations to organizational structures is insufficient to realize cultural heterogeneity. Equity, evidenced inclusion, and actualized steps aimed at retention are crucial.

To help manifest demonstrable societal change, I invest my legal knowledge and experience, leadership acumen, and lived experiences in similarly purposed organizations. Also, I invest by mentoring law students and attorneys. To advance diversity within the legal profession, my volunteerism is substantial. An example is the establishment of the National Association of Black Women Attorneys Colorado chapter. NABWA Colorado partnered with other organizations to secure Colorado’s first Black female judge (the Hon. Claudia Jordan [’80]).

I also served as a chief justice appointee on the Colorado Supreme Court’s ad hoc Diversity in the Law Council, a coalition that designed and implemented statewide placements of racially and ethnically diverse law students in courtrooms, firms, and public law offices. These placements provided valuable experience for young attorneys that launched numerous legal careers.

"Only when articulated commitments to racial justice manifest through multi-sector leaders' concerted, demonstrative, and continuous actions effectuating 'measurable and sustained' action will there be societal equality.'"

Deconstructing systemic and structural racism is in vogue within predominantly white institutions. So are more publicly voiced commitments to racial and other diversity. Sadly, reaching these milestones required the 8-minute nationally televised murder of George Floyd, a Black American merely suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes! Subsequent social unrest was consequential. (see footnote) As a results-oriented Black woman lawyer, mother of two sons, native Alabamian, longtime Coloradan, history buff, and world traveler, proffered platitudes are meaningless. Only when articulated commitments to racial justice manifest through multi-sector leaders’ concerted, demonstrative, and continuous actions effectuating "measurable and sustained" action will there be societal equality. Why? Festering wounds of racial hate and injustice, particularly against those with African roots, manifest and exacerbate life-threatening internalized racism and racial trauma. For these wounds spread moment-to-moment and threaten the continued existence of people of African ancestry!

As some segments of our society fight against growing colorism, others recognize that xenophobia threatens not just persons viewed as "different," but American democracy and global status. These threats should raise the ire of our legal community and lead to demands for implementing redress wherever we lawyers sit. Unquestionably, our community—composed of arbiters of "justice"—has a vested interest. We legal professionals understand that everyone is due equality, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, health status, age, or religion. Such understanding is furthered by deeply diving into American history, which shows most people descend from immigrants in search of bettering their and their families’ lives. Anglo-Saxon Europeans only afforded the privilege of "whiteness" to ethnic immigrants early into the 20th century upon realizing that Black Americans’ birthrates would exceed theirs. It takes only one passionate, brave soul with access to speak out against racial injustice. Others will follow. I invite you to walk alongside me.

Velveta Golightly-Howell (’81) was the eighth African American woman to graduate from Colorado Law and the first woman of color appointed as Colorado’s deputy district attorney.


Footnote: Historically, Black men, women, and children have been and still are victims of lynching (i.e., murder) based solely on their skin complexion. Witnessing Mr. Floyd being literally drained of breath while calling out for his deceased mother pierced hearts globally. Colorado is not immune to racial violence. As he walked toward home on Aug. 24, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado, 23-year-old Elijah McClain, an anemic Black man clothed to protect himself against cold, was murdered by police. This despite Mr. McClain’s pleas for police to respect his boundaries and his declaration of introversion. Hate is visible throughout Colorado, as exposed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Twenty-two hate groups exist here, and five operate statewide. They include white nationalists, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim groups.