The young Albert E. Dotson Jr. had a ready answer for his teacher’s question: “And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Without hesitation, Dotson declared, “I want to be a lawyer.”
He might have been parroting the dreams of others or, more likely, was a prescient young man with his future in sight.
Today, he is an equity partner of Bilzin, Sumberg, Buena, Price & Axelrod LLP, a Miami law firm. He practices land use and government relations, with expertise in federal and local government procurement contracts and compliance.
He is also the chairman of 100 Black Men of America, which seeks to “improve the quality of life within our communities and enhance educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans,’’ according to its website.
After graduating from Dartmouth in 1982, Dotson studied law at Vanderbilt University. He interned with former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who was then the Dade County State Attorney, according to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, which profiled Dotson in its November/December 2007 issue.
“The internship was my first exposure to the practice of law and I decided some time thereafter that I would apply to law school, and the rest became history,” Dotson told the South Florida Times.
The enthusiasm Dotson has for the law is eclipsed by his passion for contributing to his community.
In 1987, Dotson and a few other like-minded men started the 100 Black Men of South Florida, an extension of the national 100 Black Men of America organization.
The South Florida organization provides role models and mentors for young people who lack exposure to professional career opportunities. The group focuses on educational programs, mentoring and scholarships.
Today, Dotson has served on the executive committee of the 100 Black Men of America for 14 years, an endeavor he said he finds immensely rewarding. Dotson and others in the organization receive numerous reminders of the effect they have had on young lives.
“We have had testimonials from parents and grandparents here, and even around the world, who told us they strongly believe that, had it not been for the involvement of their child in the 100 Black Men, they would either be in jail, or dead,’’ Dotson said.
Dotson, 48, lives in Miami with his wife, Gail, his son, Albert, 10, and his daughter, Ashley, 12.
His own grounding in role models came from his father, Albert Dotson Sr., the first black store manager for Sears, Roebuck & Co., according to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, which said the elder Dotson worked at stores in Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago before settling in Miami in the 1970s.
In addition to his father, other role models also contributed to Dotson Jr.’s life.
When Dotson told attorney Robert Josefsberg, a 1959 Dartmouth graduate, that he was considering leaving Miami because he was not happy with South Florida’s race relations, Josefsberg convinced him to stay, according to the alumni magazine.
Josefsberg was the father of one of Dotson’s high school friends, and encouraged him to apply to Dartmouth. He also arranged internships at his law firm and the one with Reno while Dotson was studying law at Vanderbilt.
“I told him that’s not the way Dotsons deal with adversity, that his father never walked away from a problem, and that he should try to make Miami better,’’ Josefsberg told the alumni magazine.
Today, Dotson is working hard to make South Florida a better place, and strongly encourages others to do the same.
The 100 Black Men of South Florida seeks to bring together geographically diverse individuals who lack social infrastructure. Dotson understood the challenges of addressing the needs of young black males in South Florida.
“We wanted the organization to be sustainable and impactful in the community. To be involved with this organization, you had to articulate a commitment to mentoring young people, attending meetings, and being actively engaged… You had to be committed,” Dotson said.
Dotson has accumulated numerous accolades for his commitment to excellence. He has been recognized in Ebony Magazine’s “100 Most Influential Black Americans” (2005), Daily Business Review’s “Most Effective Lawyers” (2005), Florida Trend's “Legal Elite” (2004), and the South Florida Business Journal’s “Corporate Elite in the Practice of Law”(1999). He was named “National Business Leader of the Year” by the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce (2005).
Among Dotson’s most valued accomplishments is having those he has mentored become members of the 100 Black Men of South Florida, completing the cycle of giving back.
Dotson concluded: “The 100 Black Men is uniquely positioned as an organization to connect men of African descent around the globe and around a common purpose. If we really do start bridging those gaps, to me, there is no greater outcome, and I’m passionate about seeing that through.”
Photo: Albert E. Dotson Jr.