Diversity Advocate and Mentor Roderick Morgan Shares His Story
Roderick H. Morgan is a senior partner at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. He practices in the Firm's Diversified Business Solutions Team and is a member of the Corporate and Transactional and Government Practice Groups. Morgan is to be featured in The Indiana News as part of its February 2014 Black History Month digital magazine. Visit The Indiana News at http://theindiananews.net/
We hear stories about individuals who pull themselves up by their bootstraps to make something of themselves even when the cards seem stacked against them. Roderick Morgan would never suggest he is that type of person.
Morgan grew up in a single-parent home, excelled at Arsenal Technical High School and attended two of the nation’s best schools before carrying out a long career in law. He was the first African-American president of the Indiana State Bar Association and 23rd black graduate of West Point military academy. In December 2013, he retired from his regular practice at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP in Indianapolis, and remains a senior partner there.
Throughout his life, Morgan has accepted the encouragement and advice of others to help him grow, but he hasn’t taken these relationships for granted or seen them as way to simply move his own life and career forward. He is known as a generous mentor, for women and men in a range of fields, from engineering and the military to politics and law.
“Mentoring is one those things that is critical to keep our progress going and keep us getting better,” he says. “If we don’t take care of the people who follow us, we are destined to continue to do stupid things, and as a society, we will not progress as efficiently as we can,” he says.
Morgan paraphrases the quote often attributed to Winston Churchill: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The formative years
Morgan’s mother, Louise Edwards, raised him and his sister near 35th Street and Kenwood Avenue before moving to the east side of Indianapolis. He attended Indianapolis Public Schools 60 and 27 and was enrolled in the accelerated program at Arsenal Technical Junior High School. At Arsenal Tech High School, Morgan played football and started teaching other kids.
“I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and I guess I have. I’ve had mentors all my life. My mom did really great things, but there were always people who augmented those things,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to be in leadership positions that put me into a place where I can share and bring people along. Everybody can learn from others.”
Morgan learned well and became a National Merit Scholar. While he was offered football scholarships, he “didn’t want to be anybody’s jock.” He was looking instead at Ivy League institutions, and when Birch Bayh, a U.S. Senator from Indiana at the time, visited Morgan’s school and talked about West Point military academy, Morgan explored the option.
“I wanted the challenge of competing with the best in the country. Education, competition — all those things went into my decision to go to West Point,” he says. He graduated from West Point with an engineering degree, and during the fifth year of his obligated service, he started thinking seriously about what he wanted to do as a career.
“I can talk and I can write and I really care about people — all those things that go into being a good lawyer,” he recalls, and Georgetown Law held the next challenge for him.
Following law school, Morgan worked in Washington D.C. and Germany, fulfilling his obligations to the U.S. Army by representing military families, individuals and leaders, and teaching law at West Point. He retired in 1990 as an Army Judge Advocate General after 20 years of service. Still in contact with Birch Bayh, he worked in his D.C. firm before returning to Indianapolis and joining the firm of Bose McKinney & Evans.
What diversity means to Morgan
Morgan came on board at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP in 2005. While he is a member of the Corporate and Transactional and Government Practice Groups there, perhaps his most notable contribution has been as a founding member of the firm's Diversified Business Solutions Team, a group focused on enhancing opportunities and providing a full spectrum of legal services for minority-women- and veteran-owned businesses.
“I’ve been an advocate of diversity and inclusion for my whole life. We developed this team to be more competitive and to bring better client service to our potential clients,” he says. “At that time, major corporations were demanding diversity and inclusion in the lawyers that were representing them. They wanted high levels of sensitivity to issues associated with diversity and inclusion.”
This dedicated team helped sharpen and demonstrate BGD’s dedication to those priorities. The BGD diversity team members represent all of the firm’s practice groups, from estate planning to labor law, so that they can handle any sort of corporate or other business issue that might arise. Morgan says diversity is important not only among its client base, but also among the firm’s attorneys.
“My definition of diversity is broad and must take account of inclusion because that’s how you get the best results,” Morgan says. If the firm recruited just Indiana University law graduates, for example, those people would likely share a lot of the same perspectives and ways of approaching a subject or challenge.
“When you have different ways of thinking about solving problems, you get better results,” he says. That openness to ideas and people is part of what shaped Morgan when he was growing up in Indianapolis.
He calls his mother the strongest force in his life, and his other heroes and mentors include teachers, uncles and other family members.
“My mother always said it’s my decision and do what I think is best. She said, ‘I’ve got your back,’” Morgan recalls. He also speaks highly of his teacher Jack Tilton at school 27, who was always in his corner and who bought him a briefcase when he was headed to Panama as a young man. Football coach Ernie Medcalf made sure he and his teammates at Tech stayed straight and played well, growing as men with character. In an inner-city school where muscle spoke just as loudly as brains, high school teacher Lois Sink taught Morgan not to be ashamed of being smart.
“There have just been influential people along the way, and that’s why my life has been the way it has been. You have to let those people into your life, and it works. I’ve been very blessed to have people care about me and want me to succeed,” says Morgan, who has indeed become one of those same types of mentors to people around him.
Thank you to The Indiana News for its permission to reprint this story.