While I have said it before and since, I stated emphatically at my Inaugural in January that “for you who identify as diverse in race, color, religion or orientation, this is your Bar Association.” While the DBA has been committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in our profession for as long as I have been involved, we have never been more steadfast and resolute in supporting and being relevant to all 11,000 plus members of the DBA, regardless of our genetic differences.
In meeting and preparing over the last year for our transformative Diversity Summit that will take place on September 21 at the Belo, thanks to the efforts of our amazing Committee, my eyes have been further opened to the distinction between diversity and inclusion. “Diversity” refers to the differences between people and how they identify in relation to key areas such as gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age, and disability. “Inclusion” occurs when people feel valued and respected, with similar access to opportunities and resources and where everyone has the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to their organization or profession. We do not realize the benefits of diversity without inclusion.
Last month, after I wrote about how partisanship in our Country seems to be overpowering statesmanship, I was reminded of President John F. Kennedy’s statement that “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” The Dallas Bar and our profession-at-large need to continue to be at the front of the line in these efforts.
The Diversity Summit will not just be symbolic of these efforts, but will open minds by educating, memorializing, and facilitating dialogue about moving our profession, community and Country towards widespread inclusion. The Summit is a sequel to the outstanding summit hosted by then DBA President Paul Stafford in 2012, and this year’s event will be led by DBA Past President Rhonda Hunter. The blue-ribbon committee that is making this happen includes Kim Askew, Shonn Brown, Victor Corpuz, Lacy Durham, Al Ellis, Chris Johnson, Darrell Jordan, Elizabeth Julian, Monica Lira Bravo, Hon. Tonya Parker, Hon. Audrey Moorehead, Rudy Rodriguez, Adam Seidel, Hope Shimabuku, Paul Stafford, Ron White, and Michele Wong Krause, along with DBA Executive Director, Alicia Hernandez.
Speakers/panelists will include former ABA President Dennis Archer, Elizabeth Alvarez, Nnamdi Anozie, Brittany Byrd Barnett, Marilyn Booker, Cece Cox, Lacy Durham, Hilda Galvan, Regina Montoya, Hon. Tonya Parker, Dr. Sheron Patterson, Elizabeth Cedillo-Pereira, Sandra Phillips Rogers, Dr. Garica Sanford, Julia Simon, former 7th Circuit Judge Ann Williams, and Frances Waters, among others.
“The Summit will bring together great minds with long-standing careers who have seen the American justice system evolve alongside young minds who deal with today’s social media, perceptions, and techno-society to generate ideas on how we can improve our institutions and our daily lives,” said Rhonda. “Talking about our faults and deciding what we can do to overcome them can lead our diverse city to be an exemplary beacon of light for the Country. The Diversity Summit will provide an atmosphere of encouragement for each of us to be agents of change for an improved world.”
While many law firms and lawyers are committed to diversity and inclusion because they are wise to the inherent benefits of a diverse workforce, much of corporate America is demanding it.
Toyota Motor North America’s General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer Sandra Phillips Rogers says: “It takes a village to make great strides in diversity and inclusion in law firms. While each firm has to fundamentally accept this responsibility and jump in with both feet, corporate legal departments also play a critical role. We work with our partner firms to encourage them to staff important projects, such as depositions and court appearances, with diverse lawyers and where possible, we will split the cost for the training opportunity. To achieve the diversity in the legal profession that is needed to sustain and enhance it, we all have to do our part. We cannot throw the challenge over the fence and expect success.”
Rudy Rodriguez, Chief Legal and Human Resources Officer for CEC Entertainment, adds that “Improving diversity in the legal profession requires a genuine commitment and focus not just by private attorneys, but also by in-house counsel and the larger business and political communities. The DBA Diversity Summit recognizes this and will bring representatives of each group together for a discussion that I know will be meaningful and productive.”
The DBA does not just lead through the one-day Summit. The Minority Participation Committee, led this year by Earsa Jackson, continued its tradition by hosting two Minority Clerkship Luncheons to introduce diverse law clerks to the practice of law in Dallas, focusing on the broad scope of opportunities for lawyers ranging from large firm practice, to in-house counsel, solo practice, and law school professor to practical tips on networking for lawyers. The Committee also presented a CLE on Spanish Sources of Texas Law, featuring Dallas Court of Appeals Justice Jason Boatright, and also sent out a Boarder Crisis Resource page to members beckoning the assistance of our members.
For 33 years, the Dallas Bar’s Bar None led by Martha Hardwick Hofmeister, Tom Mighell, and Rhonda Hunter has raised money for diversity scholarships in a total amount of nearly $2 million. Talking about diversity, the cast includes diverse talents of singing, dancing, acting and, this year me, with no talent whatsoever.
We need to follow our enlightened leaders in our profession and communities. Darrell Jordan reminds us that “diversity implies fairness and opportunity. In the context of law firms and businesses, they are made better when they include people of different races and ethnic backgrounds among their attorneys and workforces. Clients and customers expect and should require their professionals and suppliers to embrace and demonstrate diversity.” Committee member Adam Seidel adds “Diversity within the Bar should be a priority, because a successful bar is one that mirrors the diversity of the entire community which it serves. Individuals and entities needing lawyers are best served by a legal community that can relate personally to the challenges clients face on a daily basis.”
We have a long way to go, but I do have optimism and faith in our Country. Like former President George H.W. Bush said: “We are a nation of communities... a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” We need to ensure inclusion and empowerment to this diversity.
I do not want a world of one color. I like lots of colors. Reach within and help feed the change in our culture. I look forward to seeing you on September 21, if not before.