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Prestigious Ollie May Cooper Award to Ron Jessamy

Judges, lawyers, law students, and family and friends of Ronald C. Jessamy, Sr. gathered last week at the Howard University Law School to witness the Washington Bar Association’s presentation to him of the 35th annual Ollie May Cooper Award, and to hear the 33rd Annual Founder’s Lecture given by Professor Charles J. Ogletree of Harvard Law School.

Prior to the presentation of the award to Ron Jessamy, Professor Ogletree used his new book, The Presumption of Guilt, as the reference point for his thought-provoking lecture. He talked about the early struggles of African-Americans in the legal profession who were not just great lawyers but who changed the law and “left the door open so others could get in.” Professor Ogletree also discussed more recent examples of inequality involving incidents of racial profiling, noting Professor Henry Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin.  He concluded by saying that today, the divide is even greater than before, and that “we must lift others as we climb” and train the next generation to take up the struggle.

In presenting the Ollie May Cooper Award to Ron Jessamy, WBA President Billy Martin referred to him as “a soldier for the cause of minority lawyers.”  This award was created in 1978 by the Washington Bar Association, and is presented annually to a member of the WBA who has given outstanding service to the Bar and whose leadership and organizational efforts have enhanced the image of the WBA and the legal community at-large. Ms. Cooper was born in 1887 and finished her formal education at the Howard University School of Law in 1921. She was admitted to the Bar in 1926 and was one of the first African-American women lawyers in the country. She worked and taught at Howard Law School for many years and was a founder of the Epsilon Sigma Iota Legal Sorority which continues today (and was well represented by women law students at the event). Ms. Cooper was also active in the Washington Bar Association from its inception, serving as Vice President, and in the National Bar Association as Assistant Secretary.

In accepting this prestigious award, Ron’s remarks were very personal and very moving. Among his early memories of Ollie May Cooper was being assigned to escort her to the very first awards ceremony. Ron also gave a wonderful “shout-out” to the Council for Court Excellence, describing how much his Board service has meant to him. Finally, he dedicated the award to his late foster parents, the Morgans, who had 30 or 40 foster children, including Ron and his siblings and – like Ollie May Cooper – were completely unselfish.

The Council for Court Excellence congratulates Ronald C. Jessamy on this well-deserved award.

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