The Legacy of Congressman John Conyers, Jr.

When my daughter is old enough to understand, I will share with her the legacy of Congressman John Conyers, Jr. – a civil rights hero, and a man I am extremely proud to have worked for and learned from.

I will teach her about his history as a champion of civil rights, and all he has done to advance human rights, including women’s rights, children’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and voting rights in this country. I will share with her that which is a matter of public record, and explain to her that Congressman Conyers is the reason we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday – he introduced the legislation to create that federal holiday, and fought tirelessly until it passed and was signed into law. I will explain to her that Congressman Conyers was the driving force behind the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. I will teach her her that Congressman Conyers fought valiantly for over half a century for jobs, health care, education, housing, criminal and juvenile justice reform, racial equity, decency and dignity for the poor, for the sick, for the homeless, and for fundamental fairness and justice for all. I will tell her that Rosa Parks was proud to serve as an intern in his office. I will share with her that Congressman John Conyers, Jr. is the only member of Congress Martin Luther King, Jr. actively endorsed.

I will also share with my daughter the lesser-known, personal side of Congressman Conyers I got to know working for him for four years as a Democratic staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee. I will share with her the many heartwarming and funny stories I have of this man whom I saw and got to know in many different settings over those years – at public hearings, in his office, at the White House, at the Vice President’s Residence, in churches and schools, in his district in Detroit, with children and families caught up in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, in the Governor’s mansion, at funerals, on airplanes, and with homeless protestors outside the Capitol. And I will explain to her that during all of that time and in all of those settings, he always treated me and everyone else with whom I saw him interact, professionally, and with the utmost respect.

I will share with her that Congressman Conyers has so much respect for the legal profession, he did not call his staff attorneys by our first names. Instead, he always referred to me as “Attorney Chodroff.” Working for him, I felt proud to be a lawyer, and he urged me to use my legal training to fight for justice. Congressman Conyers was always a gentleman in my presence, and he always had a great sense of humor, and appreciation for each and every day. When he came into work in the morning, we could always expect his warm and cheerful greeting: “Top of the morning to you.” Congressman Conyers cared deeply about kindness and justice. I was always moved watching the Congressman afford the same level of respect to homeless protestors outside of the Capitol – listening sincerely, instructing me and others to take notes about their ideas, and even inviting them into his office and to attend hearings – as he did the President and Vice President of the United States.

I will share with my daughter the unbelievable kindness he showed to my Mom when she came to Detroit (and, knowing her profound admiration for Harry Belafonte, the tremendous effort he made to introduce my Mom to him). I will explain to my daughter that because her Grandmother had so much respect for Congressman Conyers, his name appears in her Grandmother’s obituary.

I will tell her that, even though the visit was not on his agenda, and he was exhausted after traveling across the country and had a packed schedule, and there would be no press and he would get no credit for it, Congressman Conyers gladly made time during a trip to California to meet with a group of children and youth in the foster care system, simply because they hoped to meet with him.

I will explain to my daughter that Congressman Conyers was always respectful in my presence, and that I never, ever saw him treat anyone inappropriately.

I will also explain to my daughter that as a woman, as an attorney dedicated to human rights, civil rights, and women’s rights, and – most importantly, as her mother – I deplore sexual harassment and conduct that demeans women, and I believe passionately that we must fight to create a world in which we treat all people, regardless of race, religion, or gender, with equal respect and dignity. And if I had ever seen Congressman Conyers behave inappropriately or unprofessionally towards women, I would have been the first to speak up. I never had a reason to do so.

I will also share with her my deep belief in the importance of due process and justice. I will share with her one of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I will tell her how much it angers me and saddens me to watch the House Democratic leaders playing politics, and flouting principles of due process by calling for the resignation of Congressman Conyers without letting the Ethics Committee conduct its investigation. I will also tell her how much it sickens me that while Donald Trump – a sexist, racist man who has bragged about committing sexual assault, who incites hatred and alienates our country’s allies – sinks this country into deeper despair every day he sits in the White House, and while a proposed tax bill is looming that will cause untold harm to millions of Americans, the House Democrats are focusing their energy on tarnishing the legacy of a civil rights hero without any due process whosoever. I will tell her that we can, and we must, do better.

My daughter is only eleven months old, and has her whole life ahead of her. But when she is old enough, I will encourage her to fight hard against such injustice, and to work for the kind of country Congressman Conyers always envisioned - one defined by justice and hope and decency and dignity for all of its citizens. And, when she is old enough to enter the working world, I hope and pray she will be fortunate enough to meet and work with people as good and decent and hardworking and principled and professional and funny and respectful and kind as Congressman John Conyers, Jr.

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