Comments from the incoming Chair
What a fabulous year to chair an ISBA committee—with Vince Cornelius assuming the presidency of this august Association and showing his talent for shaking up the status quo and engaging new attorneys! I am honored to have been appointed to head the REM Committee and humbled by the trust placed in me by President Cornelius and his predecessors who started me on the REM leadership track notwithstanding I always check the box for ‘Caucasian’ on applications and surveys. Despite their confidence in me, I admit being anxious about the daunting responsibility I am undertaking to help advance the dual causes of diversity and inclusion both in our profession and for our communities. What buoys me, however, is the support and continued participation I anticipate from both the continuing and the newly appointed REM members this year.
Having been in such positions previously, I fully understand the benefit of having the ‘ex officio’ remain a committee member. We often joke about that title, occasionally referring to such a person as being diplomatically ‘put out to pasture’, but I posit that we must recognize the accumulated wisdom to be cultivated from such an individual. In REM’s outgoing Chair, Athena Taite, I will ask for and find the calm, considered approach to the issues we discuss and her characteristic query as to how I and the Committee plan to implement our grand ideas. I will also rely upon her steady guidance to resources we should contact because she has an incredible wealth of knowledge about who is doing what ‘out there’ in the world.
And I’ve done some arm twisting to get Daniel Saeedi, another past chair, to join us again as our CLE Coordinator. He is passionate about ‘spreading the word’ and always finds creative ways to turn a relevant socio-political and cultural issue into a creditworthy program—such as discrimination in the workplace and expungement of criminal records to enable individuals to find employment and housing—so that important messages about diversity and individual civil rights are delivered within a legal context. Although past chair Cory White is officially off our Roster, his dedication to the pursuit of inclusion (he was instrumental in keeping alive the spirit of the ‘Count Me In’ event at ISBA’s Mid-Year Meeting) and his outreach efforts to promote that value still linger in the room when we gather. Cory’s imprint also remains through his heroic commitment to finalizing the ISBA Diversity Initiative Restructure Proposal that the DLC undertook, with input from its six Constituent Committees. Cory worked on that project with representatives from each of those six Committees (I among them) who themselves are fairly intense and ready to debate every phrase so that the document would be a comprehensive expression of our common purpose, goals and action plan.
I am also happy to welcome back to REM this year the Hon. Geraldine D’Souza, newly installed as an Associate Judge for the Cook County Circuit Court, whose insights into the criminal justice system have been invaluable to us in past years; Juan Thomas from Aurora who, as chair of our Legislative Subcommittee, facilitated our review of many bills impacting minority communities; Jameika Mangum, another past chair who weighs in wisely on issues of import to our mission; Masah Renwick, who has advised us on how the expungement process works and how its success for minority communities can ‘level the playing field’; Vice-Chair Yolaine Dauphin, the queen of planning and presenting major all-day seminars on some of the headiest legal issues affecting our most vulnerable populations; Secretary Kenya Jenkins-Wright who will, I’m confident, effectively balance her multiple roles as REM officer, President of the BWLA, a CLE-idea machine, and wife and mother; and Khara Coleman, a young, savvy and very perceptive and articulate lawyer with endless creative energy who, fortunately for me, has graciously agreed to continue as the Chair of the Newsletter Subcommittee. Not to be overlooked is our continuing Staff Liaison Melissa Burkholder who literally holds us together and has some magical communication talent to perfectly, but with artistic touch-ups, communicate our concerns, questions, confusions and requests to whomever she chooses (and we don’t ask) as the resource to get us what we need and to make ourselves clearly understood by the ISBA administration, leadership and other groups. Lucky us!
We are also so grateful to be able to welcome several new members, including Ebony Huddleston who is both a ‘rising star’ in the ISBA and a star who has taken her rightful place in our ISBA constellation of stars because her accomplishments continue to accumulate. Beverly Allen, a 22 year veteran of the highly-respected Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and one of our earliest Diversity Fellows, will join us, as will Marissa Hanson who offices in Geneva as a name partner in her firm and, incredibly, practices in the fields of criminal, family and real estate law—which invokes the image of a juggler trying to keep her bowling pins from falling. And, possibly as a ‘FIRST’ or at least a refreshing rarity, we will also be greeting new member Otto Hurtado, Marissa’s husband and a family law solo practitioner in Geneva. I’m imagining that their conversations at home are rather intense unless, due to past experience, they’ve made a pact to leave it all at the office!
Damian Ortiz is another new member whom I know from past projects for which I sought his assistance and participation when he was the Director of the Housing Clinic at the John Marshall Law School. He continues there as a Clinical Professor and is active in the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois. I will be pleased to have his counsel, and that of Beverly Allen, for a CLE series I will propose that REM roll out this new bar year on Housing Discrimination in all its forms that alone and collectively help reinforce segregation. These forms of blatant and subtle discrimination include violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and other barriers to quality, safe and affordable housing; tenant rights; the abuse of housing voucher programs; paid-for exemptions granted by municipalities to developers to free them from providing an otherwise mandated percentage set-aside of affordable housing units; and the impact on minority communities of the foreclosure crisis that has resulted in short sales and the abandonment, vandalizing, deterioration and demolition of residences, a multi-layered phenomenon which, in some places, is decimating entire minority neighborhoods.
Due to time and space limitations, I have not mentioned everyone on our Committee but plan, in the coming months, to highlight our members in The Challenge, our Committee Newsletter. The members of this hard-working committee represent a remarkably diverse range of practice areas and perspectives on the profession and how to improve it and our services to multiple demographics. Each of them is a ‘someone you should know’ and you will have an opportunity during this bar year though this vehicle, to learn about them, their work and their vision. On behalf of the entire Committee, I thank you for reading this issue of The Challenge. Please keep it up!