W. Haywood Burns

W. Haywood Burns

Our organization is named for the late W. Haywood Burns, who was a beacon of light to those who believe the battle for human rights and justice can be won through activism, humility and dedication.

After graduating with honors from Harvard College and receiving a law degree from Yale University, Burns served as the first law clerk for District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley. In 1968, he served as general counsel to Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign. He was one of the founders of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. He worked on the defense of the Attica prisoners and many other people struggling for self-determination. Burns was also the founding dean of the City College Urban Legal Studies Program, serving from 1977-1987.

Burns went on to serve as dean of the Law School at the City University of New York (CUNY). He was a visiting scholar at Yale Law School and returned to New York to establish a Harlem-based law firm. Talent, passion and zest for life were his signatures. He was tragically killed in an automobile accident while attending the International Association of Democratic Lawyers conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

Burns’ family endorses the use of his name for the work of the BI, which was created in 2001 by James Bell. There is no more fitting a person in whose memory the BI works on behalf of youth of color, their families and communities.