International law firm McDermott Will & Emery is the proud recipient of the Luminary Leader Award, which recognizes the firm for its dedicated pro bono service to the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side.
Located on South Indiana Avenue in Chicago, Pilgrim Baptist Church was an architectural masterpiece with archway entrances, vaulted ceilings, acoustics, and ornamental designs. The structure was designed by architects Louis H. Sullivan and Dankmar Adler in 1890 and built as Kehilath Anshe Ma' ariv synagogue in 1891.
The building became Pilgrim Baptist Church in 1922 during the great migration, when millions of black Southerners headed to Chicago, bringing along their musical traditions. The church was often used as a venue for musical performances and later became known as the “birthplace of gospel.” Throughout the years, the venue not only attracted musical talent, but also became the site of noteworthy sermons delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. As a result of its rich history, the church was designated a Chicago landmark in 1981.
In 2006, a massive fire destroyed Pilgrim Baptist Church, and $1 million was publicly promised to rebuild the administration building, which had served as a community center. The promised funds were never distributed to the church, and with its multi-billion dollar budget deficits, the state of Illinois claimed the grant money was no longer available. At this point, McDermott’s pro bono team stepped in and spearheaded a lawsuit against the state in an effort to obtain the funds that had been promised to Pilgrim Baptist Church. After filing suit, McDermott successfully negotiated a favorable settlement that helped the church’s fundraising efforts as it works to rebuild.
The firm’s pro bono team also negotiated a settlement with the roofing contractors who started the fire, and McDermott has served as a trusted legal advisor to the church helping to address various other legal issues as they arise.
McDermott’s pro bono efforts were recognized at the Pilgrim Baptist Church 100th anniversary celebration on September 24, 2016. At the ceremony, McDermott senior counsel and Chicago “southsider” Michael A. Pope accepted the Luminary Leader Award on behalf of the firm.
“McDermott’s pro bono work on behalf of Pilgrim Baptist Church was a chance to give back to the community that we love here in Chicago,” said Mr. Pope. “It is the firm’s honor and privilege to be recognized by an institution that holds such a special place in history.”
Mr. Pope is a great representation of our lawyers’ dedicated efforts to give back to the local communities in which they live and work. On June 30, 2016, Mr. Pope was acknowledged in a proclamation presented by the Governor of the State of Illinois honoring him as one of the Founding Trustees of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF). As a Board member, Founding Trustee, and the organization’s first President, Mr. Pope has devoted countless hours over the past seventeen years to the IEJF’s mission of providing financial support for legal aid services.
About McDermott’s Commitment to Pro Bono Work
McDermott Will & Emery offers a comprehensive pro bono and community service program managed and led by its full-time pro bono counsel and the chair of our Pro Bono & Community Service Committee, which seeks to ensure that the same standards of quality, service and care that McDermott gives to its paying clients are also afforded to those it serves on a pro bono basis. The firm strongly encourages its lawyers and staff to participate in pro bono initiatives, volunteer services and charitable activities, and it recognizes lawyer time dedicated to pro bono and community service as equivalent to billable hours for all purposes.