The 14-year-old boy sat in the Kansas City holding cell. Its dank and sterile walls providing nothing to distract the young man from assuming the worst about his fate. He had stolen a car with his friends and was being charged with theft and truancy.
Attorney Keron Wright, now a Hollywood Heights resident, walked into the cell and introduced himself to the teenager, who provided a weak and unsure handshake. “Are you a real lawyer?” he asked. The boy doubted that a young black man like himself could also be his legal counsel. Wright worked for Husch Blackwell in Kansas City at the time and was assigned to take the case pro-bono.
Wright handed his client the charging documents. The teenager stared blankly at the document. “He can’t read it,” Wright thought to himself. “He doesn’t know what it says.”
Wright met with him every other week for a couple of months, helping him and other clients understand the proceedings and advocating on their behalf in court. “I want to give them a sense of freedom around speaking their mind, talking about themselves.”
In Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th” about the growth of mass incarceration in the United States, viewers learn that one in three black men will end up in prison during their lifetime, compared to one in 17 white men. Statistics such as that motivate Wright to do what he can to help change things.
As a black lawyer, Wright is on the other side of this equation. He feels the burden of working to right what he feels are systematic injustices. He was one of just eight African-Americans in his law school class of 147 at Washburn University. He clerked for a black female judge, who told him that when she graduated law school, she could find work only as a paralegal.
Over the years, Wright worked in numerous roles that allowed him to mentor young people who needed a hand up. Wright has been a CASA volunteer, representing the interests of foster children, and also a tutor. He remembers the shame of a high school kid who had a third-grade reading level. “I carry it with me,” he says. “I will never forget his face and that feeling of wanting to get away.”
Wright now works for Stewart Bradbury in Dallas, a woman-owned firm that prides itself on diversity. “We are busy, but part of our busyness is pro-bono,” he says. “That is acceptable around here.”
Wright hopes to impact youth before they end up in the courtroom as well. He partnered with his fraternity brother, who works for KIPP, a primarily black public charter school in Dallas, to establish an after-school program where students can learn about being a lawyer. “They can’t see themselves beyond these stereotypes and stigmas,” he says.
For Wright, the opportunity to find cases where he can represent juveniles in the criminal justice system is part of his mission as a black male professional.
“Whether I can do a good job as a lawyer, I am a confidant for whatever short period of time. I try to give them a sense that someone cares.”