NORMAN — Dimitri Flowers views the anti-racism movement taking place as impressive and encouraging, though his tone quiets when asked about it. There’s an understanding that people died before action was spurred.
He is still optimistic about what he sees now.
“Instead of seeing it all over social media — this happened, that happened — things have finally started to develop,” he said.
But the former Oklahoma fullback also has watched the past few weeks unfold through a different lens. He had been set on going to law school after one season in the XFL with Bob Stoops and the Dallas Renegades. The pandemic just accelerated his timeline.
When the XFL shut down, Flowers studied for the LSAT, passed it and was accepted to OU’s law school — all while widespread discussion took place about injustices against black people in America.
“I think I’m entering at a perfect time to come out, really make a difference and advocate,” Flowers said. “At the end of the day, I really want to fight that good vs. evil fight. That’s what I wholeheartedly believe it comes down to in a lot of issues in the world, it’s good vs. evil. And I want to advocate for good, I want to do good, I want to be good and I want to help beat evil.”
Flowers’ last game as a Sooner came in the 2017-18 Rose Bowl against Georgia. He was still committed to some type of career in football, maybe eventually as a coach, joining the OU staff as a graduate assistant for the better part of 2019. When the XFL start-up took root, he started playing again.
His ultimate plan has always been to seek more education. Law has been on his mind since he was growing up in San Antonio.
“Those were always my favorite types of TV shows,” Flowers said. “Looking at law in general, just everything about it from criminal law, corporate law, it was always interesting to me.”
Giving up football wasn’t easy, but it was expected, even coming from an athletic and sports-focused family like Flowers’. His dad, Erik, was a first-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. His cousin, Tre, starred at safety for Oklahoma State safety while Flowers was at OU.
“I was always raised knowing football doesn’t last forever,” Flowers said. “So I needed that backup plan.”
It is a compelling time for him to initiate that plan. According to the American Bar Association’s 2019 survey, 85% of U.S. lawyers were white compared to 5% who were black.
Flowers thinks deeply about that discrepancy and finds himself somewhere in the middle. He will be the first attorney from his family. But on the field, he trained himself to be a winner, and when it comes to black and white in the courtroom, winners win regardless of race, he said.
Four and a half years into her law career, Lauren Oldham’s view on this topic has been shaped by her experiences as a black attorney. The OU law school grad is now with the Ogletree Deakins firm in Oklahoma City, handling civil litigation and employment defense. She has worked sexual harassment complaints, discrimination and helped companies improve diversity efforts.
Does the U.S. need more black attorneys?
“Oh, yeah,” Oldham said. “We definitely need more black attorneys now more than ever.”
In 2018, the U.S. imprisonment rate — defined as jail sentences of a year or more in state or federal jurisdiction — for black males was 5.8 times that of white males, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Black females were imprisoned at 1.8 times the rate of white females.
According to a 2017 analysis by ProPublica, black debtors’ odds of choosing Chapter 13 bankruptcy over Chapter 7 were twice as large as white debtors who had similar financial situations. (Attorneys work as aids during the process. Chapter 13 is a prolonged solution requiring up to five years of repayment; Chapter 7 can take up to six months and absolves more debt.)
Further, ProPublica found, was after choosing Chapter 13, black people were 50 percent more likely have their cases dismissed, receiving no debt relief at all.
The broadness of the legal profession creates crevices of injustice, which could be viewed as a frightening case of irony.
“That’s going to include prosecutors, public defenders, legal defense and other civic organizations. It’s going to include family law, tax, oil and gas,” Oldham said. “I think one of the biggest areas of inequity is in the criminal justice system.
“There’s a lack of diversity among judges, elected officials, law firms and other legal positions. I think one of the ways you fix the inequalities (America faces) is to fix the problem from within.”
Oldham’s next point paints an even clearer picture.
“We need black attorneys who are then going to become black judges,” she said. “We need more black law clerks. We need more politicians, who usually have a background in the legal field. I think it’s all tied together.”
Flowers hasn’t entered the classroom yet. He has time to decide which area of legal expertise he’ll plunge into.
“I think criminal law is most interesting to me,” he said, “and that’s another one of those where you can fight the good vs. evil fight.”
What he knows is, based on what he’s seen in the world lately, it has made the reason for his decision all the more clear.
“It’s the reason why I’m going to law school,” Flowers said. “To be part of that change and try to change the world.”
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