As the mother of a black son who was 13 at the time, Pamela Meanes always felt the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown was personal — even as she used her platform as president of the nation’s largest African American bar association to push for national standards for police use of force.
Five years later, as the anniversary of what the world would come to refer to simply as “Ferguson” unfolds, Meanes’ college-bound son is the same age as Brown was when he was killed.
For the longtime Thompson Coburn partner, the failure to adopt meaningful reform after a spate of high-profile police shootings, and the fractured public dialogue around race, can make the path forward seem downright Sisyphean.
And her fears of a late-night phone call no mother should ever receive are only stronger.
“Just because I live on a golf course in Fairview Heights, Illinois, does not mean that my son could not be mistaken for someone else,” she said, before describing the time her son was accused of being drunk by a local police officer while he listened to music and waited for the bus to his private school.
Asked how she remains positive, Meanes cites “being connected to groups who are interested in change” and “surrounding myself with individuals who want to see the miracle [of this country] that we envision, as opposed to the one that we want to pretend is there.”
The East St. Louis native, who specializes in real estate and construction litigation, added that “I stay positive by knowing that I’ve worked at this firm for 23 years, and I’m not here because I’m an African American. I’m here because I’m an excellent lawyer.”
A University of Iowa College of Law graduate, Meanes is the first African American at Thompson Coburn to be elevated from associate to partner. She counts the Metropolitan Sewer District and Bi-State Development Agency, for which she managed and negotiated land acquisition for MetroLink extensions into both Illinois and St. Louis County, among her stable of clients.
Missouri Lawyers Media named her an Influential Lawyer in its 2016 Missouri Lawyers Awards for her work leading the National Bar Association. She also has been president of the Mound City Bar Association, the St. Louis affiliate of the national bar organization, and a former board member of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, MERS Goodwill and the Greater East St. Louis Community Fund.
Meanes also is general counsel of the Michael Brown Chosen for Change Foundation, the nonprofit organization established by Brown’s father, as well as a close family friend. The organization’s charitable efforts include clothing and toy drives/giveaways, free haircuts and a program promoting paternal involvement in school programs.
With three daughters still at home and a blended family of seven with her husband, a pastor, Meanes remains immersed in the daily work-life balance of a lawyer-mom. But rest assured that she’ll continue to inspire, challenge, agitate and motivate us to continue having “the conversation that America never wanted to have” around the “elephant in the room that our country has never really dealt with, and that’s race.”