On September 18, 2006, the Peoria County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee held its third annual Diversity Luncheon and outdid itself again. There were about 350 attendees including local high schools students, law school students from NIU and SIU; and students from Illinois Central College’s Upward Bound; and South Side College Club (programs aimed in assisting underprivileged students to the road to higher education). Also in attendance were a strong number of judges, civic leaders and community organizations.
The PCBA Diversity Committee announced three recipients of the Diversity Scholarship. One of the three recipients, Dwayne Simpson, who is an African-American 3rd-year law student at University of Florida, fell in love with Peoria when he came to Peoria the previous summer as an ABA Judicial Intern. He came to love Peoria so much that he came back the following summer as a paid intern at a local law firm. He is the prime example of how the Diversity Committee’s programs including funding the ABA Judicial Internship Program for Peoria has paid off in dividends.
The second recipient, Syed Ahmad, a 3rd-year law student at Michigan State University and a Muslim-American, immigrated to Peoria in 1998 and plans to practice in the Peoria area. The third recipient, Melodi Green, a 2nd-year law student at SIU, was present at the Luncheon to accept the Diversity Scholarship. Melodi who is an African-American, was born and raised in Peoria and plans to practice in Peoria upon graduation. The Diversity Scholarship program annually awards $1,000 scholarship to each of three recipients who are from minority groups that are historically under-represented in the legal profession and intend to practice in the Peoria area.
The keynote speaker, Calvin Butler, VP of External Affairs at RR Donnelly, spoke about the high attrition rate of women of color out of the large law firms and the economical as well as the creative need to keep people from many diverse backgrounds in the legal as well as the business field. Faced with demands from clients, big corporation such as RR Donnelly and Sara Lee are seeking law firms that are diverse in their employment of attorneys. Calvin insightfully told the crowd that diversity may scare the general population and instead explained that diversity is more related to inclusion; inclusion of all people with all type of ideas to foster advancement in technology and business innovation. The speech concluded with Calvin lauding the long-term effect of mentoring, especially to a young attorney like himself 10 years ago.
The Diversity Luncheon is among the many programs implemented by the PCBA Diversity Committee to diversify the legal field to better reflect the community. Other programs include law schools visits to attract minority law students to Peoria; future mentorship program to plug the “leak” in the pipeline to get qualified minority students into the legal field; funding and assisting the ABA Judicial Internship program; and funding and awarding the Diversity Scholarship.