Rip Patton, former Nashville Freedom Rider, addresses the audience at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC’s 19th annual MLK Breakfast. Photos by Ashley Benkarski

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Bone McAllester Norton’s 19th annual MLK Breakfast held Mon., Jan. 20 at the Tennessee State Museum brought together Cyntoia Brown-Long and Judge Richard Dinkins for a conversation centered on hope, forgiveness and justice, drawing over 1,000 civic and community leaders, the largest number of attendees in its history.

Judge Richard Dinkins interviewing Cyntoia Brown-Long about her story at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC’s 19th annual MLK Breakfast.

Brown-Long is a former sex-trafficking victim who was tried for murder, sentenced to life as a teenager and eventually set free by former Governor Bill Haslam last year after the law firm took her case.

Hers is an extraordinary story of survival and redemption in the face of seemingly impossible odds and help from unlikely sources. Having received two degrees from Lipscomb University while incarcerated, she now focuses on helping others in similar situations through her advocacy, spreading awareness by telling her story and engaging with legislators about sex trafficking and criminal justice issues such as rehabilitation.

“What a great opportunity today was to celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy but also to talk about how we can each carry forth his message in our own lives today. I have been given an extraordinary second chance. I am deeply grateful to Bone McAllester, former Governor Bill Haslam, and the many others who stepped forward to help me tell my own story and get a second chance at life,” Brown-Long said. “I’m committed, now to standing on the backs of the giants like Martin Luther King, Jr. to ensure we carry his legacy forth — that we give voice to those who need it most and that we inspire others to listen more intently to what they have to say and act on it.”

Dinkins, a longtime civil rights advocate and current Tennessee Court of Appeals judge, noted Brown-Long’s story and its significance in the context of King’s legacy. “In so many ways Cyntoia’s story is a present-day manifestation of Dr. King’s message. Listening to her story challenges us to think about, remember, and celebrate the messages he preached about forgiveness, love, justice, redemption faith and service,” Dinkins said. “As the passage of time takes us further away from the days of Dr. King, it is so important that we make ourselves constantly reimagine the meaning of his words in today’s context. Talking to Cyntoia today did that in an incredibly moving way,” he remarked.

The event also featured former Freedom Rider Rip Patton, who was a student activist in Nashville during the Civil Rights Movement. Patton recounted the importance of Nashville in the movement’s beginnings, especially the Jefferson Street community, and sang some of the prison songs used to strengthen the resolve of protesters while jailed for civil disobedience.

The event brings the community together every year “to celebrate, reflect and remind us of the importance of Dr. King’s message and renew the city’s commitment to the social justice issues he fought so hard for,” the firm said in a statement.

“Dr. King’s message is in so many ways just as relevant today as it was 50+ years ago. As a law firm, but also as active members in this community, we believe fiercely that we have a responsibility to not just remember his legacy but push each other to keep thinking and talking about its relevance against the backdrop of present-day issues and challenges,” Stacey Garrett Koju, a co-founder of the firm, said.

“What makes a great law firm isn’t only top-flight lawyers, but also a steadfast commitment to the community in which we practice,” Charles W. Bone, the firm’s co-

A group of marchers make their way down Jefferson Street towards TSU at the same
intersection where the Nashville Student Movement Office once operated Jan. 20, Martin
Luther King, Jr.’s federal holiday. The HBCU hosted a convocation and march which drew many participants despite the day’s snowfall.

founder and chairman said. “From the day we opened the doors of Bone McAllester Norton, we’ve maintained a dual commitment to legal excellence and community as our compass. This event to honor Dr. King’s legacy is an important part of that, as was our work to free Cyntoia Brown-Long.”

The MLK Breakfast was followed by a convocation and march at Tennessee State University’s Gentry Center. 

You can find more information on the firm and its community initiatives by visiting