Diversity…I’ll Never Get it.

Mark Melton
3 min readJul 6, 2022

Just a few short months ago, I was sitting in my living room. Gathered around me were several of my staff lawyers at the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center and one of my board members, Eric Cedillo, a prominent Hispanic lawyer in Dallas (I promise this is a relevant fact…stay with me). We were gathered to train our newest staff lawyer, Ahmad, who had just passed the bar exam. Ahmad is of Indian descent (also a relevant fact…almost there).

The purpose of the meeting was to conduct a mock trial exercise for Ahmad to practice defending tenants in eviction trials. These mock practice sessions help young lawyers like Ahmad prepare for what they will experience in real court rooms.

After each mock hearing, the group provided feedback, and Ahmad was encouraged to ask questions. As this was a teaching exercise, that kind of open communication maximizes learning. But I didn’t’ expect that the learning would be directed at me.

At one point, Ahmad stopped the mock round, and he asked me how I would have handled a particular situation. I answered honestly; I would have drowned the room with moxie.

Eric immediately stopped everything. He looked directly at me and then turned his gaze toward Ahmad. “Don’t listen to Mark,” he said. “He can say that in a court room because he’s Mark…and white…and he has influence.” Then he continued, “But you’re a young brown man. You have no reputation. And you must approach power, especially when that power sits behind a bench, with respect and reverence.”

As he spoke, I was embarrassed. He was right. I was giving this young lawyer advice based on my own experience, station, and privilege. It was the wrong advice.

Thankfully, the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center has board members like Eric Cedillo; prominent beyond even my own station and with a different perspective I am unable to know. His presence provided a teaching moment, certainly for Ahmad, but also for me.

It was humbling to be shut down in front of my staff. And it was not the kind of feedback that is fun to hear. But I needed to hear it. More importantly, Ahmad needed to hear it.

As I watched Eric wrest control of the room from me for the benefit of properly training this young lawyer of color, with whom he certainly related more than me, I knew he was the person my staff should be following in that moment. And sometimes leadership requires an understanding that you are not the best person to lead in a particular moment and then ceding control to someone that is.

The thing about diversity is that you don’t know its value until it presents itself as valuable. That’s kind of the point. Diversity matters because there’s no way for any of us to know what we don’t know. When diverse perspectives are included in the moment, mistakes can be corrected…in the moment.

I’ll never learn what it’s like to have Eric’s or Ahmad’s experience. I can’t. I might hear their stories, or even observe some of them, but I can’t experience their experience. The only way to include their hard-won wisdom is to include THEM.

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Mark Melton

Lawyer. Housing Advocate. Notorious Fixer. Political Gadfly.