“Inform, inspire and empower.”
Those traits aptly describe the life objectives of Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons.
The Oklahoma Bar Association recently presented him with the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Diversity Award.
The honor recognizes his dedication and efforts in raising issues of diversity, protecting and promoting civil rights and fostering positive communication among populations of different backgrounds.
“(Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher) did a lot more for civil rights in the country than most people realize,” says Solomon-Simmons, a former University of Oklahoma football player.
The award has special significance to him because “she was a key figure in Oklahoma’s civil rights movement and forever changed history” as the first black person to attend the OU College of Law.
Solomon-Simmons also has a remarkable story.
He was a self-admitted underachiever — at least in the classroom — in high school.
“I always figured I would play in the NFL so I never really applied myself in the classroom,” he says. “I graduated something like 232nd out of 260 in my class at Booker T. Washington. I was a knucklehead.”
Solomon-Simmons started college at Northeastern State University but soon dropped out. He moved to Dallas and got a job working in a warehouse, making just enough to pay his bills.
That’s when he experienced an epiphany and realized that without an education, his future was somewhat limited.
“I call it my ‘semester of life,’” he says. “It motivated me to get serious about my education and earn my associate’s degree from TCC (Tulsa Community College) and my bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from OU and also to walk-on the OU football team and eventually earn a letter.”
He champions the significance of a diverse legal profession/system and an inclusive society.
“Lawyers stand on the front lines of truth, justice and equality in this nation,” Solomon-Simmons says. “As lawyers, we have an obligation to utilize our skills and our understanding of what justice is in order to move our society forward, and that cannot occur if we don’t have diverse practitioners.”
“If you don’t have individuals in the law that look like our entire citizenry, then that trust and belief in the law and the legal system erodes.”
At Riggs Abney law firm, Solomon-Simmons handles personal injury and wrongful death litigation and civil rights violations. With his athletic background, he also practices sports and entertainment law. He has represented numerous athletes, including several NFL and NBA first-round draft selections and has negotiated millions of dollars of professional athlete player and endorsement contracts.
He also co-founded the MVP Foundation, which focuses on mentoring young black males living in single-mother households.
Who was Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher?
Fisher was the first black person to attend the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
Denied admission because of her race, she filed a lawsuit in 1946 against the OU Board of Regents. After more than three years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Fisher was entitled to attend because the state did not have an alternative “separate but equal” law school for blacks.
Her case represented an important legal landmark and helped lead to the elimination of segregation in American public education. She was later appointed to the OU Board of Regents.
Source: Doug Eaton/Tulsa People Magazine