11:22 AM

'The Milly Project' film premieres in St. Louis

The Missouri Bar Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) welcomed dozens of lawyers and law students to Saint Louis University School of Law Tuesday for the premiere of “The Milly Project,” an award-winning film adaption of a play that tells the true story of an enslaved woman named Milly Sawyers who fought for and legally won her freedom in Springfield before the Civil War.

Written and directed by Kendra Chappell, “The Milly Project” details the struggles Sawyers faced while fighting for her freedom, using information from handwritten court manuscripts recently uncovered by local archivists. The film adaptation also describes the trials and tribulations Black residents in Springfield and across the country faced over hundreds of years. Click here to watch the film’s trailer. 

“‘The Milly Project’ reminds us why we got into this (industry) and that’s to fight injustice and to make sure that everyone – regardless of religion, race, orientation – has a voice and has an opportunity to be heard,” said Lauren Collins, immediate past chair of YLS.

Following the film, YLS hosted a panel discussion with Hon. David C. Mason, circuit judge with the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, and Belinda Dantley, assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Saint Louis University School of Law.  

It’s important to have diversity in law so lawyers and judges can listen to stories from people who have been marginalized and can help find solutions, Dantley said.

“Lawyers have the power and privilege to make a difference,” Dantley said. “When we see a law being unjust and see how it disproportionately impacts people, it’s our responsibility – with the privilege we have – to make some change.”

Mason first heard of Sawyers while he was researching information for the new Freedom Suits Memorial, unveiled Monday at the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis. The monument honors the more than 300 Black Missourians who, over nearly six decades, fought for their freedom in the St. Louis circuit court.

Highlighting these stories can help lawyers identify their implicit biases and consciously take action to counteract those biases, Mason said. Lawyers need to speak out against discriminatory policies or actions, he added.

“As lawyers, you have to be brave,” he said.

YLS will show the new “The Milly Project” film 5:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, at Polsinelli Conference Center in Kansas City. The panelists at the Kansas City event are Hon. Jon R. Gray, former circuit judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit Court who currently works with Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Christa Moss, assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City; and Jon Herbert, theatre director, producer, and program head at Ozarks Technical Community College. It offers 2.2 ethics and 2.2 elimination of bias credits. Register for the showing here.