Walking in, we find marble floors, nice polished wooden tables, and quiet. A beautiful receptionist offers us soda and some chocolate. Looking out the windows, we see the Foshay Tower and people in suits, walking the streets below, enjoying the summer weather.
Richard Terrell walks in with a warming smile and greets us, looking like the next new thing in the Briggs and Morgan law firm.
The IDS building, which is in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, is home to one of the most prestigious law firms in the state of Minnesota. Terrell, dressed in a two-piece suit on the 22nd floor, has come a long way from being an at-risk youth. The 21-year-old has worked at Briggs and Morgan as an intern during summers and school breaks for five years.
Terrell grew up in south Minneapolis with his three siblings on Lake Street and Chicago. In the midst of gang violence and drugs, his grandparents raised Terrell and his siblings.
According to a 2002 report by the Hennepin County African American Men’s Project, 44 percent of African American men ages 18 to 30 in Hennepin County are arrested each year. Meanwhile, young African American men are 27 more times likely to go to jail than young white men and twice as likely to die.
Clearly, the odds against young black men, especially those at risk, are high.
Terrell shows how to beat the odds with a strong drive to succeed and by having people around who support him. His support included his grandparents, mentors in high school, church, and Briggs and Morgan.
At Ramsey Elementary School, “I got into a lot of fights for no reason,” Terrell said. “I just wanted the attention. My younger brother and older brother always got the attention with me just being in the middle.”
He said he would cuss out teachers, students, anybody.
“It affected my education a lot because I was never in school. I would be gone for 3 to 7 days for fighting,” he said.
He eventually got kicked out for hitting a teacher with a bowl and a chair and ended up at an alternative school.
When asked to describe his family, Terrell said, “There are two sides of my family, the church side and the family that was involved in gangs. The church side would attempt to bring the gang-related side and be involved with them. But the other (gang) side thought they would try to convert them.”
Because people in the community knew that some of his family were gang members, Terrell often got labeled.
But he had made a different choice.
“At 14 is when I decided to turn my life around, just before going to high school,” he said. “I was always around the church side of my family. Without them in my life, I don’t know where I would be right now.”
“The streets are pointless and will give you two things — jail or six feet under,” Terrell said.
He also learned that every youth needs a mentor in order to succeed.
At North High School, he met a mentor named Dale Johnson, who works in the counseling office.
Terrell talked to Johnson about wanting to be a lawyer and told him about his past. He says Johnson told him, “If you keep doing that — it’s going to show on your record, and you won’t be where you want to be.”
Apart from school, church had a huge impact on Terrell’s life. He went regularly and got to know the pastor well. “Church really changed my life,” he said. “I got into church big-time when I stopped fighting and having a negative attitude.”
Briggs and Morgan hired him as an intern through the STEP-UP program when he was 16. STEP-UP is a Minneapolis youth employment program that places youth, ages 16 to 21, in paid summer jobs with local employers.
When Terrell first started at the firm, he met Dudley Smith, a library assistant.
“I can talk to Dudley about anything — girls, school, just everything,” Terrell said.
Smith, 36, recognized Terrell’s ambition when he arrived as a shy 16-year-old who aimed to be the first in his family to go to college.
“There was just something so captivating,” Smith said. “I could tell he wanted to learn.”
Smith, who is African-American, also understood the barriers young black men face. When they met each day for coffee, he told Terrell: “Stay focused and go for you dreams. Don’t let anything sway you and distract you.”
Five years later, Smith is convinced that Terrell will become a successful lawyer, possibly even a judge.
“I can see a growth in him in terms of his dreams and his goals,” he said.
Now Richard Terrell is a family man with a six-week-old baby boy named Zyrie.
“Yes, I have a family now and, yes, I work two jobs and volunteer at a park to provide for my family,” Terrell said.
He plans to graduate from North Central University in Minneapolis in two years, then go to law school and become a lawyer representing businesses.
“I want to open up a private practice, work for 25 years and become a judge,” Terrell said.