Growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts, Dan Cranshaw was only vaguely aware of his minority status in a majority-white world.
That would change once he arrived at the Deerfield Academy, a private boarding school the future Princeton graduate attended with hopes of making it to the Ivy League.
“I grew up in a working-class family, raised by my mother and grandmother, and at no point was I told, ‘Don’t do it,’” he said. “What I instead heard was, ‘You go ahead and dream. We’ll just have to figure out how to help you get there.’”
At Deerfield, a male-only school at the time, Cranshaw was one of just 12 black students out of 600. That disconnect sparked a lifelong interest in diversity and inclusion that began with him aiding school recruitment efforts while there and led to his return — after Princeton and a stint as a Capitol Hill assistant press secretary to Sen. Ted Kennedy — to Deerfield as admissions director, dorm monitor and football and wrestling coach.
He would spend a decade at Deerfield and another private day school in suburban Boston, followed by two years directing an urban scholars program in Philadelphia, before enrolling in the University of Kansas School of Law as a young father, while his then-wife worked in Overland Park.
“At 8, I knew I was going to be a lawyer,” the Polsinelli shareholder recalled. “I came from a family that was typically on the other side of the law. So I decided I was going to break the cycle.”
At Polsinelli’s Kansas City office, where he’s worked since 2013 after a decade with Lathrop & Gage, Cranshaw chairs the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee, earning local, regional and national recognition for those efforts.
Earlier this year, he was one of three Polsinelli attorneys to be named to the inaugural Nation’s Best list compiled by Lawyers of Color, which noted their accomplishments and commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. The nonprofit organization promotes diversity in the profession, advances democracy and quality in marginalized communities and conducts research and studies regarding the intersection of the legal profession and social justice.
In the community, he is board chair of the nonprofit Swope Community Enterprises and also serves on the boards of the Women’s Foundation, Cornerstones of Care Foundation, Urban Neighborhood Initiative, Shumaker Family Foundation, School Smart Kansas City and the city’s American Jazz Museum.
The father of two speaks with glowing admiration of his mother, who was 16 when she gave birth to him and later returned to school for her degree in nursing — an occupation she still holds.
With his mother both working and going to school, it was up to her oldest child to help care for his two younger sisters and baby brother.
“I had to help run the house, feed them breakfast, get dressed and ready for school,” he said. “There was a lot of structure, and I had to act a little older than I wanted to keep that thing moving.”
Cranshaw can point to any number of legal successes though his career, but what most inspires the former school administrator and coach are the interactions with young lawyers who go on to achieve their own career success.
“All we’re doing is trying to create an environment where everyone can be themselves, and be successful,” he said.