Tyler attorney and mediator Blake Bailey is finishing his fifth decade as a lawyer, and during this time, he has grown a profound passion for assisting others in need. He does this routinely through his practice at home, but a February trip to Poland to aid fleeing Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russia-Ukraine violence elevated his desire to be of service. Bailey spoke to the Texas Bar Journal about his 10-day mission in Poland, his most impactful experiences, and his hope that others in the Texas legal community will join him.
Describe the moment or experience you had that originally inspired you to fly to Katowice, Poland, and offer aid to the Ukrainian refugees.
Throughout my legal career, I have dedicated myself to advocating for the rights of everyday individuals who have been harmed or lost their lives due to negligence or the presence of unreasonably dangerous products. This experience has instilled within me a deep understanding of the fight against injustice—a struggle that closely mirrors the plight endured by the citizens of Ukraine at the hands of the Russian government.
It is crucial to note that my motivations are in no way intended as a means of retribution against the ordinary citizens of Russia. On the contrary, my interactions and lectures at various law schools have granted me a profound respect for the Russian people and their contributions to society. My goal in assisting refugees from Ukraine in Poland is to extend a helping hand to those who have been affected by these unfortunate circumstances and to promote justice and fairness for all, transcending borders, and nationalities.
When you landed in Poland, you met one of the Ukrainian refugees who had been employed at a hotel in Ustron owned by MercyWorks. Describe your initial interaction with the refugees at the hotel and in the town.
Our initial interactions left a profound impression on me, as they highlighted the unwavering determination and resilience of both the refugees and the volunteers in the face of daily challenges. What struck me the most was the refugees’ relentless commitment to accomplishing even the most basic tasks necessary to address the ongoing difficulties they faced. Despite the hardships they had endured, the adults exhibited remarkable attentiveness and dedication. They wholeheartedly embraced their responsibilities, understanding that their collective efforts were crucial for their families’ well-being and the success of the community.
Remarkably, the children, too, rose to the occasion alongside their parents. While they might not have fully comprehended the intricate details of the overall effort, they grasped the significance of their role in supporting their families. Their willingness to contribute and help, despite their young age, was truly inspiring.
The interactions with both the refugees and the residents in the town showcased a sense of unity and collaboration. Despite cultural and linguistic differences, there was a palpable spirit of cooperation and mutual support. The refugees were welcomed with open arms, and the local community demonstrated remarkable empathy and understanding, fostering an environment of inclusivity and shared responsibility.
What were some of the things you and MercyWorks did with the refugees during the 10 days?
A significant portion of our collective efforts was dedicated to addressing the fundamental, day-to-day needs of the displaced individuals. This involved the provision of meals, water, and clothing, which played a crucial role in sustaining their basic well-being. It is important to reflect on the significance of these seemingly simple provisions. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to lack access to a refrigerator for water or a snack in your own home. Similarly, consider the challenges of finding suitable diapers for an infant in such circumstances.
I observed the remarkable dedication of both the volunteers and the immigrants themselves as they consistently attended to these ongoing needs through well-structured programs. Their efforts were driven by a profound understanding of the critical importance of meeting these necessities daily. As an active participant, I eagerly joined the ranks, assisting in tasks such as moving boxes and arranging clothing in the necessary locations. This hands-on involvement allowed me to witness firsthand the collective impact of our concerted efforts.
Surprisingly, amidst the relentless pursuit of meeting essential needs, there were continuous endeavors to infuse moments of joy and humanity into each day. The volunteers and refugees recognized the importance of weaving moments of celebration and connection into the fabric of their lives, particularly for the children. Whether through singing or other creative initiatives, the collective effort was focused on bringing smiles to the faces of the youngest members of the community.
What was your main message to the refugees you worked with?
First and foremost, I wanted to express my enduring admiration for the resilience you have shown and the remarkable ability you possess to illuminate the inherent beauty of human nature even in the most challenging times. Your unwavering strength and determination have left an indelible impression on me, serving as a testament to the extraordinary spirit that emerges amidst adversity.
It is crucial for you to recognize that the world is extending its support and reaching out to embrace you. Your strength as Ukrainians extends far beyond the realm of your intelligent and courageous military defending your homeland. Equally significant is your united effort to uplift and support one another, which serves as the true magic ensuring the survival and endurance of the Ukrainian people.
Together, your collective resilience and unwavering support for each other form the foundation upon which the Ukrainian spirit thrives. It is through these connections and acts of solidarity that you cultivate the strength necessary to face and overcome myriad challenges that come your way. I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggles. The world stands beside you, recognizing and valuing your resilience and fortitude. May this message serve as a reminder of that profound admiration.
What was the most memorable moment of the trip for you?
During this journey, a particular moment stands out vividly in my memory. It was a time when I paused, took a deep breath, and allowed myself to fully immerse in the present moment. In this stillness, I had the privilege of witnessing a young mother tenderly cradling her smiling daughter. It was a delicate scene, shielded from the harsh realities that surrounded them. In that instance, I consciously chose not to intrude upon the moment with my camera, opting instead to absorb the beauty and serenity that enveloped them. Although I did not capture the image externally, it became etched within me—an indelible imprint that continues to resonate.
As this conflict continues, what advice would you offer fellow attorneys or the public who might be interested in assisting in their own way?
I encourage you to jump on board without hesitation! Opportunities to contribute to global humanitarian efforts with such wide-ranging impacts are few and far between. As attorneys, we possess a unique set of skills and experiences acquired through our education and professional endeavors. These attributes position us to be mentally prepared to engage in such experiences and to derive profound personal growth from them.
Participating in humanitarian efforts amidst the conflict provides a chance not only to appreciate the experience on a personal level but also to make a meaningful contribution. It is essential to recognize that contributions can extend beyond financial assistance. As attorneys, we possess the capacity for advocacy at all levels, allowing us to amplify the voices of those affected and drive positive change.
Where would this experience rank in your career?
The experience I gained during this endeavor holds an exceptionally high rank in my legal career, for several compelling reasons. First, the structured framework provided by the rules of court, which organize and supervise litigation conflicts, is similar to the absence of violence and the emphasis on human rights and safety that I witnessed in the villages of Poland. Although these two experiences differ in their specific contexts, they share fundamental moral philosophies that prioritize the well-being and dignity of individuals.
It is crucial to acknowledge that the minimal increase in risk to my personal safety was largely mitigated due to the collective efforts and support of those around me. Their dedication and vigilance ensured a safe environment within which I could contribute meaningfully. This allowed me to focus on the task at hand, without undue concern for my own well-being.
The true divergence from my typical daily life as a litigator and adventurer was the profound sense of being part of a moral imperative, a global humanitarian effort. Participating in this endeavor meant aligning my actions with a broader cause that transcended individual interests or legal disputes. It entailed embracing a higher purpose driven by the principles of compassion, justice, and solidarity. This shift in perspective was both humbling and transformative, reminding me of the interconnectedness of our global community and the significance of collective action.
In all humility, I must emphasize that my contributions were minimal in comparison to the remarkable efforts of those around me. Witnessing their unwavering dedication and selflessness served as a constant reminder of the immense impact that can be achieved through the collective efforts of individuals united in a common cause.
Photo: Bailey in Ustron, Poland, preparing to help sort through and distribute donations to displaced Ukrainian refugees. Courtesy of Blake Bailey.