Thu 2/9/2023 3:19 PM
BY WALTER VILLA – Special to St. Thomas University
How else to explain the ceremony held on Wednesday afternoon to name St. Thomas University’s College of Law after famed attorney Benjamin L. Crump?
It does not happen often if ever, but even A-list actor Will Smith – who made a surprise appearance at the event – was upstaged by the namesake of the newly-named St. Thomas University Benjamin L. Crump College of Law.
Attorney Crump closed the 90-minute ceremony with a stirring speech that included some words from two legendary figures in American history.
“We have to acknowledge what Ben Franklin said,” Crump began. “Franklin said that democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch.
“You don’t have to have a law degree from St. Thomas University to know who will win that vote. But Franklin also said liberty is making sure that the lamb is well armed to protest that vote.
“What we’re doing (at STU) is making sure that young ‘lambs’ who seek to be the changemakers in the world are armed – not with violence, guns, or bullets, but with diplomacy, intellect, and strategic thinking so that they can protest injustice.
“As Martin Luther King said, ‘We cannot call ourselves moral people if we see injustice and look the other way.’ Dr. King said that we have a moral obligation to challenge injustice – not just sometimes but every day of our lives.
“Let’s use the law as an instrument of good and never let it be used as an instrument of evil.
“With that, I welcome you to the Benjamin L. Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University!”
Wednesday marked a historic day as STU became the proud home of the first law school in the country named after a practicing Black attorney. The only other law school in the country named for a Black person is named after Attorney Crump’s personal hero, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Mr. Crump chose to partner with STU in part because of the university’s presence in Miami – a global city full of ethnic and racial diversity.
In addition, STU has one of the country’s most diverse law schools. preLaw Magazine recently named STU among the 10 “Best Schools for Racial Justice.”
Princeton Law Review ranked STU No. 1 in the category of “Greatest Resources for Minority Students.”
STU’s College of Law has produced more women judges than any other institution in Florida, and the St. Thomas Law Trial Team is ranked top-five in the nation.
STU President David A. Armstrong, J.D., introduced Attorney Crump toward the end of Wednesday’s naming ceremony.
President Armstrong said he first convinced Attorney Crump to meet with him after inviting him to the Super Bowl in Tampa on Feb. 7, 2021. Armstrong said he realized that day that Ben Crump was bigger than even a rock star in terms of his status and influence.
“I was walking with someone who receives the reverence of a pope,” Armstrong said of Crump. “I was walking with someone who has Dr. King’s charisma.
“So many people came up to (Crump), hugging him, shaking his hand. Ben was taking pictures with everybody.
“As a president of a university, I’m kind of the center of attention sometimes. But I was not even in the picture on this one. It was all Ben.”
President Armstrong said he was impressed with Mr. Crump’s humility that day because those Super Bowl tickets were not exactly premium.
Benjamin Crump never complained.
More importantly, President Armstrong noticed the effect Crump had on people.
“If I get emotional, I apologize in advance,” President Armstrong said. “But there was a moment at the Super Bowl when an older, African American woman came up to Ben and said: ‘Can I hug you?’ She started crying. She said, ‘Thank you for saving my sons and my grandsons.’
“That’s what (Crump) does.”
Indeed, Attorney Crump does so much, including representing the families of several Black men in wrongful-death lawsuits, including George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Keenan Anderson, and – currently – Tyre Nichols.
Attorney Crump also represented the people of Flint, Michigan, whose drinking water has been contaminated by lead, affecting as many as 12,000 children.
President Armstrong said STU will be moving toward a capital campaign to build a new Benjamin L. Crump College of Law, right behind the current structure.
“This is a historic day,” President Armstrong said, “because two great American stories are melding together – St. Thomas University and Benjamin L. Crump.”
Dan Dolan, who is on STU’s Board of Trustees, opened Wednesday’s event, calling it historic for St. Thomas University, but also for Miami, for Florida, and for the nation at large.
Dolan introduced Reverend Thomas Wenski, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Miami, who blessed the event.
Attorney Crump’s pastor of more than 30 years, the Rev. RB Holmes Jr. of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, also led prayers at Wednesday’s event.
“Lord, we thank you for this President (Armstrong), and for this Board and for their courage, conviction and commitment to name this College of Law after this great legal scholar, Benjamin Crump,” Holmes said.
Rev. Holmes also told the crowd that Crump’s success had been predicted… or perhaps preordained.
“When you joined our church, I looked in your eyes and said, ‘Ben, you are going to be one of the best lawyers God ever made, and ‘bruh,’ you did it, and you are doing it,” Rev. Holmes told Mr. Crump.
“As students come in and out of this university, they will know that Ben Crump stood tall for justice.”
Among those present and on stage on Wednesday were Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami Gardens Mayor Rodney Harris, and Miami Dade County Commissioner Chairman Oliver Gilbert III.
Addressing Mr. Crump, Commissioner Gilbert said, “Ben, your name being on the wall is important. But your spirit inside this building is more important.
“I pray that this law school produces people with your heart — people with your ideas, students who will have the ability to make our collective situation better.
“The law, if used right, is an instrument that can change the world.”
Armstrong Williams, a nationally syndicated columnist, author, radio/TV host, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, also spoke at Wednesday’s event.
“I feel good because today we celebrate a titan of the legal profession who has left a lasting imprint on the foundations of justice,” Mr. Williams said. “Benjamin Crump embodies the essence of strength and unyielding bravery. He is not just an attorney … but a champion for justice.
“With the re-naming of the St. Thomas University law school in his honor, future generations of legal minds will be enlightened by his achievements, his humility, and his character.
“They will be inspired by his passion for fairness and equality. They will learn of his tenacity. They will know that they, too, can wield the power of the law to create positive and necessary change in the world.”
Williams described himself as a third-generation Republican, but he stressed that Wednesday’s historic event was not about politics.
“Benjamin Crump has fiercely used his expertise in the law to advance the cause of justice,” Williams said. “That’s not liberal. That’s not conservative. That’s not left, and that’s not right.
“That’s what morality calls us to do.”
The last three speakers on the day were President Armstrong, Will Smith, and Benjamin Crump.
“He’s not just any lawyer,” President Armstrong said of Mr. Crump. “I call him ‘The Lawyer.’
“Ben Crump’s story is a great American story — coming out of North Carolina, not having all the means that other people have … Eventually he went to high school right here in South Florida, at South Plantation.
“The fact that Ben Crump, coming from meager means, is now ‘The Lawyer’ in our country – that is a great American story.”
President Armstrong said STU is all about building bridges, which he said is contrary to many of the trends troubling our nation.
“We are being divided in this country – 24-hour news, social media,” President Armstrong said. “They are intentionally trying to drive this country apart for ratings and clicks.
“We have to build bridges — in race, in politics, in faith, in our families. That is our job, and that is the job of all our students at the Benjamin L. Crump College of Law.
“As a conservative and as a Catholic university president, how can Ben and I become friends? It’s because we do not talk about our differences. We talk about what bonds us together. We both love people and the law.”
President Armstrong said access to capital is the key to equality, and that will be a primary focus of the STU Benjamin L. Crump College of Law.
“We need to respect our differences but bond in our commonalities for the good of our country and the good of this world,” President Armstrong said. “I think Dr. King would be proud of us today.
“The only way we win is if we do it together.”
Will Smith, who was quickly whisked on and off stage by security, made some brief remarks.
“I just wanted to support Ben, who has been a spectacular friend and guide, and that is why it was important for me to be here today,” Smith said. “There are very few people in the world with a heart like his. It is my deepest honor to be here to show some love.
“Congratulations on this historic honor.”
Mr. Crump, who became emotional during his speech, then closed the event by saying, in part:
“We will never forget this historic moment for Black history and for American history.”
Mr. Crump urged the students in the audience to be the “spark of light” that ignites future change. He challenged them to speak truth to power, “even if your knees are shaking and your palms are sweating because God made you for this moment.”
Life isn’t fair, Mr. Crump said.
In fact, it’s hard.
But you make it fair by what you “bring to the table” – and that’s your education.
Attorney Crump closed with a reference to one of the greats in another field – basketball.
“You know, LeBron James broke the NBA scoring record (Tuesday night),” Crump said. “I’m sure he feels like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
“But I feel like I’m the most blessed man on the face of the earth today. Why do I feel so blessed? I’m surrounded by my beautiful family, my loving friends, and the future changemakers of the world, and I’m living my purpose and my mission.
“I am living my assignment that God has for my life. We can make a better America, a better world, a world where all our children have an equal opportunity of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“What more can an individual ask for than to fulfill the purpose that God put us on this Earth for?
“That’s why I’m the most blessed man on the face of the Earth.”