Interview with Chapter Board Member Michael Thomas

1. Where are you from and is there anything relevant about your family history you’d like to share?

I was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. My grandfather on my father’s side of the family was one of the first African-Americans to integrate the steel mills in Pittsburgh. He had to fight very hard to do that. He was also one of the first African-Americans to purchase a home in a certain neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He also had to fight hard to do that. He spent so much of his life fighting that he was a very unemotional man. My father grew up in this environment. My father masked his emotions with alcohol and violence. My home environment was the product of intergenerational racism and intergenerational trauma.

I grew up during the 80’s. My courageous mother raised my brother, sister and me. Ronald Reagan portrayed black single mothers as welfare queens and black men as Willie Horton. The Democrats led the battle in congress against rap music-which for me was a healthy escape. And, both parties did nothing to address the crack epidemic in black communities in the 80’s.

I have been greatly influenced by all of these factors.

2. What drew you to practicing law?

I was drawn to the practice of law based on the desire to create social change. I went to Bucknell University. Several events that occurred while I was in college had a profound impact on my life, including the first War in Iraq, the Rodney King beating, [South African] Apartheid ending, Clarence Thomas being nominated to the Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton giving an amazing presentation to Congress on health care, and Arizona approving MLK day after a boycott. I listened to a lot of Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine. All of the aforementioned inspired great conversations with diverse classmates.

I went to law school because I wanted to create a more compassionate world.

3. You’ve been on both sides of the employment practice right? Reflect on that experience.

There really is not that much of a difference. It is like the Democrats and the Republicans–not much of a difference. As Chuck D said in “By The Time I Get to Arizona,” “Neither party is mine not the jackass or the elephant.” The U.S. legal system is a system of interpreting and applying laws, and applying interpretations of laws. Our laws tend to focus on individual rights and property rights. It has really only been recently that we have begun to embrace human rights and international human rights in our legal system. Well, Columbus made his maiden journey to America in 1492. That is well over 500 years of decisions being made, laws being passed, and laws being interpreted by largely white men with wealth. Our legal system is still a reflection of that history and myopic lens. Both sides of the employment spectrum play within these parameters. As Albert Einstein said, “you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” Unless we learn to think differently, not much will change.

4. What inspires you politically?

What inspires me politically is the desire to have kids and raise them in a world that is very different than the one we have today. The restorative justice and trauma healing communities are doing some amazing work to create more compassion.

5. When and why did you get involved in the Guild?

I got involved in the Guild about three years ago when I volunteered to assist with the hotline during the Occupy movement.

I got involved with the Guild because I needed to believe that we could be better towards each other.

6. What do you hope to accomplish on the chapter Executive Board?

My personal journey has involved a lot healing from trauma through yoga, mindfulness and meditation. My hope is for the Bay Area Chapter to begin a national dialogue on rethinking how to create justice and fairness.