Federal judge, WSU chief awarded for work on equality

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Walking in the shoes of others is something U.S. District Judge Terrence G. Berg and M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University, have done over the decades.

Berg, a federal judge, has presided over hundreds of criminal and civil cases in more than three years on the bench, But last year he became the victim of a serious crime and served as a witness in a criminal case against two men charged with shooting and trying to rob him.

Wilson, who is African-American and graduated from a mostly white university, created the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement at WSU in 2014 to provide an inclusive environment and promote initiatives for underrepresented minorities and marginalized students.

Both men were honored Tuesday at the second annual Justice Awards Tribute at Music Hall in Detroit for dedicating their lives to equality and justice.

The event was created out of a partnership by two Metro Detroit civil rights organizations, the Arab American Civil Rights League and the NAACP of Detroit.

Both men are being recognized, said Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the ACRL, because of their commitment to serving and raising awareness of the struggles of the community.

“Because civil rights is under attack across the nations and racism is on the rise, it’s always important to highlight who has had a positive impact. We see so many negatives and you have to counter with the positive,” Beydoun said

Honorees were selected by event co-chairs Judge Kathleen M. McCarthy of Wayne County Circuit Court-Family Division and U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker.

Born in Detroit in 1959, Berg was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2012. Before that, Berg served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan for more than 20 years.

Berg was selected, Beydoun said, because he has a long-standing history of supporting civil rights and issues of equality in his rulings. Berg was shot in his leg on March 5, 2015, on the porch of his University District home on Detroit’s northwest side during a botched robbery.

Suspect Kevin A. Smith was cleared in the shooting but found guilty of other felony charges. Smith will be sentenced Wednesday.

Berg said the shooting was a life-changing experience.

“I have more empathy for victims who’ve been shot. I know what it’s like to be a shooting victim and a witness in a case now. It helped me understand what people go through,” Berg said.

Beydoun said the adversity Berg faced in the event makes him an apt honoree.

“In light of the fact he was attacked and was the victim of a heinous crime, he survived and continues to support the people of Detroit and that speaks volumes to his character,” Beydoun said.

Wilson became the 12th president of Wayne State University on Aug. 1, 2013. He was an academic administrator, international researcher and ophthalmologist who trained at Harvard University before he joined WSU.

To increase diversity on Wayne State’s campus, Wilson created the position of associate provost for diversity and inclusion, and chief diversity officer in 2014.

Wilson said he returned to Allegheny College three weeks ago to receive an honorary degree, with mixed feelings, he said.

“It was a time there were very few minorities there and I didn’t have any place to turn,” Wilson said.

So he vowed once he was in a position to help others that he would never allow other students to feel like they did not have a voice on their campus.

“People need a voice and someone to look out for them,” Wilson said Tuesday.

Beydoun said although Wilson has been at WSU a short period, he has shown himself to be an advocate for civil rights in education.

“He is known for promoting diversity and fighting anti-Islamic propaganda on the campus. He is a constant fighter for this and we have seen it in his actions as well as his words,” Beydoun said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com