Throughout her extraordinary career, Kimberly Jade Norwood has been celebrated as a mentor to countless students and young lawyers, a global scholar-expert on topics ranging from torts to implicit bias, and a leader far beyond her law classroom at Washington University in St. Louis.
Norwood, who joined the university in 1990, writes extensively and lectures on colorism, social justice, civil rights and implicit and explicit bias issues. She also conducts implicit bias workshops and lectures for CLE credit and facilitates diversity and inclusion training for law firms, corporations and other institutions.
Norwood has worked with organizations ranging from the Missouri Supreme Court to the American Bar Association to address issues in Missouri’s municipal courts and in the profession as a whole. She remains a member of the team appointed to monitor the U.S. v. Ferguson consent decree prompted by unrest after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014.
Since 2017, Norwood has been a member of the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. Missouri Lawyers Media honored her in 2019 as its Woman of the Year in its annual Women’s Justice Awards.
What motivates you most in your work as an attorney and as an advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?
According to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve, it takes the net worth of 11.5 Black families to equal the net worth of one white family. This economic disparity represents a serious miscarriage of justice that has resulted from decades of racial and social inequality. At every turn, Black Americans are kept behind the 8-ball. This disparity is stark in virtually every part of the social order of our society: education, employment, the criminal justice system, housing and health care. In every single meaningful facet of life, [Black people] are dealing with racial bias and systemic and institutional racism. A large part of why this is relates to the misrepresentations and omissions in our history books. History, particularly Black history, is not accurately taught in schools. There is no sense of the essential contributions my ancestors have made to the success of this nation. I want to be a part of righting that history. The truth has not been told about how this nation was founded. I believe that failing, and the continued distortions both represented and omitted in our nation’s history, are crucial parts of the resulting disparate legacy we see today, and this failing has sown the seeds of racial inequity and current civil unrest in this nation.
Who has most inspired you in your work for Diversity & Inclusion, and why?
That person, hands down, is Michael Middleton, a retired law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, who went on to become the deputy chancellor and interim president of the University of Missouri. . . . In 1984, I was a rising 3L in law school, and he and his powerful spouse, Dr. Julie Middleton, came to the University of Missouri School of Law to interview for a position on the faculty. Michael became the first Black law professor in the University of Missouri School of Law’s history. As I eventually made my way into academia a few years later, Mike was always there to support me. He mentored me and others of my generation, and planted in us, then baby law professors, the importance of giving back and helping diversify the academy, the pedagogy of teaching and the quality and scholarship produced. I have been in academia now 30 years and still recall and rely on the guidance, support and values he instilled in me to remember my untold history and connect it to the important fight for social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.