March 20, 2019
Judge Langford Morris, Dean Crocker, & student leaders

On March 8, International Women’s Day, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted a portrait unveiling ceremony honoring alumna and Oakland County Circuit Judge Denise K. Langford Morris.

Over 300 guests, including alumni, students, faculty, local community leaders and friends and family of Morris, gathered in the atrium of Detroit Mercy Law to catch the first glimpse of the oil painting crafted by Detroit artist Henry Heading. The official portrait, which marks the School’s first of a woman and African-American graduate, was presented as a gift from Detroit Mercy Law student organizations—Law Review, Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and Women’s Law Caucus.

Detroit Mercy Law Dean Phyllis L. Crocker began the ceremony by applauding the student-led effort to honor an outstanding alumna and ensure the portraits on the walls better represent the diversity of the School’s graduates.

“When I go out to talk to graduates and others about what is going on at the School, I tell them that our students inspire me. This is an example of why and how they inspire me every day,” said Crocker. “Students from three organizations came together to change what we see every day about who we are and to change what we show others about who we are.”

The effort to commission the portrait began last year, when Bridget Underhill, a second-year student and secretary of the Women’s Law Caucus, approached Professor Pamela Wilkins and fellow student leaders with the idea to honor one of Detroit Mercy Law’s many women graduates with an official portrait. Underhill, along with Jewel Haji, editor-in-chief of Law Review, Keshava Kirkland, BLSA president, Kelsey Sill, Women’s Law Caucus president, Michelle Shember, Law Review outside editor, and Milaka Spann, BLSA secretary, raised the funds and commissioned the portrait with support from faculty, administrators, alumni, fellow students and the Student Bar Association.

“To change a row of male portraits and add one remarkable female, it leads to bigger things, at least to future law students and lawyers imagining themselves in that portrait one day,” said Underhill. “We thank Judge Langford Morris for being that brave lawyer and judge who we can hope to emulate… To us, she is known as a mentor for women and minority lawyers, who makes sure that we find our seat at the table and that we have a portrait on the wall.”

A 1982 graduate and member of the University’s Board of Trustees, Morris is a leader in the legal community and a mentor to future lawyers. She has served as an Oakland County Circuit judge for 27 years, and was the first African-American jurist elected to the circuit bench. Previously, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney, civil division, an assistant Oakland County prosecutor, a trial attorney in private practice specializing in insurance defense, and a protective services worker. Morris received the 2019 Judicial Award from the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel for her excellence as a jurist. In 2018, she received the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM) Mary S. Coleman Award, a prestigious honor bestowed annually to a Michigan judge who inspires and mentors women in the profession. She is also a founding member of the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, an organization of diverse attorneys, judges, and other legal professionals which has helped promote legal practice opportunities for people of color for nearly 30 years.   

“As the first female dean of the Oakland Circuit Court, I accept this honor on International Women’s Day on behalf of all the beautiful student leaders to my left, on behalf of those women who are here and those that are not here, and those that are struggling to succeed, often against all odds,” said Judge Langford Morris. “I accept this historical honor knowing that it’s from the students and from their hearts. Students who care about their community and their law school.”

Morris’ portrait is on permanent display in the atrium of Detroit Mercy Law.

Check out the video and photos for more highlights from the event.