Setting the Tone
Andre' B. Caldwell has a propensity to say ‘yes’
Published in 2021 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
on October 21, 2021
Updated on November 2, 2021
In 1995, when he was in middle school in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Andre’ B. Caldwell was a member of the mayor’s team volunteers program, in which students were paired with various professionals to explore jobs over the summer. He rolled with the city’s water and electrical meter reading crew. “I got to go out in the vans with the workers and learn how to read the water and electrical meters,” he says.
“And the best part: I carried a walkie-talkie. All summer. … I was so cool you can’t even understand,” the Ogletree Deakins lawyer adds, laughing.
As the son of a nondenominational pastor, Caldwell already understood the importance of outreach and community service. “Of course, I understood it better much later in life than I did then, but my mother, and the MTV work, really set the tone.”
Many years and acts of service later, Caldwell will admit he has a problem—albeit a good one. “This passion for being involved in the community has grown to such that I have a very, very bad propensity to say ‘yes,’” he says. “[And] I’m not a person who likes to just be a part of something to have it sit idly on a resume. I’m very involved in whatever board or nonprofit I’m helping. And it’s been my experience that each appointment is a bridge to another.”
Caldwell was first recruited for board service with Positive Tomorrows, a nonprofit that provides elementary education to homeless children. “That’s where I really cut my teeth on board work. I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “But they’re so special, and so well-run, that it allowed me to learn and get my feet under me. That’s the position that hooked me on nonprofit work.”
It was also his first bridge. “Positive Tomorrows bridged me to the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City, which is a deep passion of mine because of its mission: to enhance the lives of underrepresented communities and African Americans,” he says. Caldwell has served on that board for four years, and the connections he made at the Urban League landed him on the grant review committee for the OKC Black Justice Fund, which was created in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The fund seeks to give money to Black-led social justice nonprofits working to advance racial equity and justice in Oklahoma City. In this capacity, Caldwell was able to help give grant money to the Urban League in support of its expungement fair—and fold in his firm for pro bono work, too.
While traveling the OKC Black Justice Fund bridge, he ran into Tricia Everest, member of the Gaylord Entertainment family and chair of the advisory committee for the Inasmuch Foundation. “Inasmuch Foundation is a very big deal in Oklahoma,” Caldwell says. “It’s like the Black Justice Fund on steroids—they give away millions of dollars a year. So we meet and she says the foundation is in a position where it needs to right-size its advisory committee in terms of age, perspective and skillset, and we think you’re a great fit. And I’m reeling because I’m being invited to make these critical, life-changing decisions.”
Caldwell notes that the foundation was started by journalist Edith Gaylord in 1982, with a focus on social change and education. “But Tricia basically said, ‘We’re looking to add some different perspectives and we’d like to welcome you into the family, because historically, it’s been only family on this committee.’ So I’m like, ‘Cool. Do I get written into the will?’”
Presently, Caldwell’s community service docket is made up mostly of Inasmuch work. “It’s given me a sense of imposter syndrome from time to time,” he admits. “Like, why me? Of all the folks in Oklahoma, why have you entrusted me with this? I have to bring it down to the way I carry myself, my passion, my humbleness, my dedication.”
Not to mention his empathy. Caldwell tells the story about his first sentencing when he was a federal prosecutor.
“I was 25 years old, sitting across from a guy who was also 25 years old,” Caldwell says. “I was a Black man, he was a Black man. I’m a prosecutor, and he was a gang member caught with a firearm. All I could think was, ‘Where did our lives diverge? What was different? And what kinds of work can I do to change the circumstances for someone else?’
Getting Your Feet Wet
As for getting involved in a cause or organization, Caldwell has a tip: “Find your passion and dive in—that’s my advice. It can be from a monetary perspective or a giving-of-time perspective, but just find that passion and dive in.”