Former Mayor Coleman Speaks at Black History Month Event at Supreme Court
Reaching into his pants pocket, finding a nickel, and dropping it in a metal bucket when he was a little boy is what former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman remembers after listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at a function he attended with his family.
“At the end of the speech, I felt like I made a contribution,” Coleman said. “I felt like I made a difference and I felt good about myself. That that little nickel that made the big clang at the bottom of that metal bucket was going to make a difference. Here’s how: It would help finance the next trip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the next city – just a nickel, just a little bit.”
Speaking to high school students, visitors, and staff at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Center on Feb. 17 for a Black History Month event, Coleman said he knew he wanted to make a difference at just 9 years old. To do that, he followed in the footsteps of his hero, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
“I wanted to grow up to be like Thurgood. I wanted to make a difference,” Coleman said. “I wanted to have an impact in the law. I didn’t know exactly how to do it, but I knew I had to go to law school first. Thurgood Marshall was my hero.”
Coleman said it was Justice Marshall who told him that having a law degree isn’t enough.
“Your life is measured by not the degree you hold or the position you hold in society. Your life is measured by what you do for others,” Coleman said. “And so that stuck with me ever since. And so as I got out of law school, I said I’m going to do something of value, change the world. And it ended up that I was mayor for 16 years of this city. I tried to change it the best way I could.”
Coleman told the students from Walnut Ridge, South, and Cristo Rey Columbus high schools to commit to their goals.
“It takes total commitment – a total focus – that you want to be at the top of your game and there’s failures along the way,” Coleman said. “And, I’ve had many failures, but it’s the failures that makes you successful in life.”
As the attendees think about their careers or future aspirations, Coleman said to remember that whatever they decide to do is measured by what they do for others at the end of the day.
A lawyer for 35 years, Coleman received his law degree from the University of Dayton School of Law. He spent 23 years in public service and is now a partner at Ice Miller.