By Tom Bailey
Tannera George Gibson, a partner at Burch Porter & Johnson, was announced as the first Black female president of the Memphis Bar Association during the group’s annual meeting on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
The president’s gavel passed from one groundbreaker to another at the Memphis Bar Association’s annual meeting Thursday, Dec. 2.Tannera George Gibson became the first Black female president after taking the reins from Peter Gee Jr., the bar’s 2021 and first Asian American president.
Also the first Black female partner in the Burch, Porter & Johnson firm, Gibson started her first speech as president by citing a letter that the firm’s late partner, Lucius Burch, wrote to the local bar in 1963. He advocated for racially integrating the association.
Looking at the association’s photos of past presidents, Gibson said: “It was a bit jarring, to be honest, that no one who looks like me has ever held this position in 147 years.”
While the local bar has been had two Black male presidents, Gibson is the first Black female president.
“It’s equally impactful to receive the gavel from Peter Gee,” she said, addressing her predecessor. “No one looked like you, either.”
Gibson said she thought a lot about what meaning to take from the Memphis Bar Association being led for the first time by an Asian American and by a Black female.
“It occurred to me that this moment encompasses all of the descriptors (Burch) mentioned in that letter,” Gibson said.
Diverse leadership brings diverse experiences and diverse perspectives to the association, she said.
“It’s the audacity to believe that by bringing diverse voices to the table, to the leadership, we can advance together,” she said. “I truly believe with all of us, anything is possible.”
Gibson also expressed gratitude for the support and many opportunities she’s received. Among others, she singled out the mentoring of fellow Burch, Porter & Johnson law partner Les Jones and Bruce McMullen of Baker Donelson.
“They are mentors, but it’s more accurate to call them my brothers at this point,” she said. “I honestly don’t know where I’d be if I had not listened to their counsel…”She and others praised Gee for guiding the association — and even growing its membership — during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Peter has got to be the coolest head in the middle of chaos,” Gibson said. “… I can’t imagine having served with a better person.”
Gee, a partner with Morgan & Morgan-Memphis, said he’s sometimes asked what he receives in return for volunteering so many hours to the bar association. The best reward, he said, are the relationships and all the small, day-to-day interactions the president experiences.
“You get to be around a lot of good people,” Gee said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work. Those people give their personal time for the betterment of the community,” Gee said. “That is what the Memphis Bar Association is all about.”
The association promotes, among other things, professional development, wellness, summer internships for high school students and pro bono legal help for the disadvantaged.
Earlier Thursday, Gibson described for The Daily Memphian her plans for two initiatives in 2021 for the bar association.
One will be a new leadership program that helps groom law school students before they become lawyers.
“So many things they don’t teach in law school,” she said.
For example, many law students don’t understand how to network and interview for jobs, “especially if they don’t have real-life work experience” or a mentor, Gibson said. Another initiative Gibson plans is to form a President’s Council — a group of seven or nine lawyers — tasked with choosing and completing one goal for the year.
“I’m open to different ideas and input from them about what project it will be,” she said.
An experience Gibson had in helping a senior citizen inspires her to form the President’s Council.
Due to a lack of information or misinformation, the elderly woman nearly lost her house to a tax sale, Gibson said. Preventing the loss of her longtime home “took tremendous effort,” she said.
So reforming the legal process to avoid such confusion is one example of a goal the President’s Council could achieve in a year, Gibson said.
“I want a very realistic goal,” she said.