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The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

May 2017Volume 105Number 5Page 8

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President's Page

From Many, One: Ethnic and Minority Bars Enrich Our Legal Community

Ethnic and minority bars help nurture lawyers who in turn serve the broader profession.

Vincent Cornelius

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a community as people with a common interest living in a particular area. I recently heard a faith-based radio personality define true community as a group of people who are concerned for one another. In the past several months I have enjoyed the camaraderie of many legal communities, where I saw both of these definitions on full display.

Whenever I visit another city, region, or country, I enjoy a guided tour by a longtime member of the community. I am intrigued by the history, the native pride, and the historical influences. I enjoy hearing the names and stories of the people who have influenced the arts, architecture, and politics. By the end of the visit, I always see the people and the locale from a more informed perspective. This has certainly been the case with my tour of the ethnic and minority bar associations of our state.

I have been struck by a common theme across each ethnic and minority bar association I have visited: acceptance and belonging. I consistently heard accomplished lawyers say it was in the company of such bar associations that they felt embraced, encouraged, or just understood.

I especially enjoyed hearing from the newly installed presidents and chairs of the various ethnic and minority bars. Almost every one of these leaders spoke of the sense of belonging they felt when they attended the first event or meeting.

As ethnic bar associations in Illinois go, it is difficult to equal the pride that members of the Justinian Society of Lawyers have in their Italian heritage. At his installation as president, Frank A. Sommario spoke about how he had been embraced and mentored and how honored he felt to lead the Justinians. And the Celtic Legal Society's Luncheon on St. Patrick's Day was the hottest ticket in town - for good reason, with its bagpipes, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish pride in a sea of green. Kudos to their President, James L. Kopecky.

At her installation as president of the Cook County Bar Association, Natalie Howse spoke of how honored she was to lead the oldest association of black lawyers and judges in America. She paid homage to those who paved the way for her. The many predecessor CCBA presidents in attendance were too numerous to count.

I had the pleasure of attending the installation of Marta Zaborska as president of the Advocates Society, the association of Polish-American lawyers. The emotion in the room was palpable as she spoke about coming to the United Stated only 10 years ago, having graduated from law school in Poland, then starting law school again in America. She spoke of her initial sense of unbalance in the states - until she attended a meeting of the Advocates Society, where she instantly found her sense of belonging.

Curtis Ross is the president of the Decalogue Society, the association of Jewish lawyers. The members' pride in their ancestry and accomplishments is also palpable. At a recent meeting, President Ross proudly introduced me to the Consulate General of Israel, who was enjoying the camaraderie as much as anyone present.

The history and current events impacting the Arab American Bar Association of Illinois made everything about the installation of Donna Haddad feel consequential. At her installation as chair of the Illinois Judicial Council, Sharon O. Johnson spoke of her very early musings on the possibility of being IJC leader, even before she was a judge. I was struck by how many young female lawyers lined up to be photographed with her.

The Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois' Judges Night was so animated and well attended I couldn't hear the speeches, but I could feel every word. Kudos to President Claudia Castro.

March was Women's History Month. On March 1, 2017, President Adria East Mossing and the Women's Bar Association of Illinois hosted the WBAI Judicial Reception. The capacity crowd spoke volumes about Illinois lawyers' respect for this great association.

I attended the annual meeting in St. Louis of the National Bar Association. It is the nation's oldest and largest national network of predominantly African-American lawyers and judges in America. Cook County Circuit Judge Leonard Murray was concluding his term as chair of their Judicial Council. One of his final acts at the annual meeting was to honor me with the Chairperson's Award. ISBA member Juan Thomas will be installed as NBA president in Ontario in August of this year. I was so awed by the experience that I am committed to joining the association.

Now imagine the presidents of these organizations and more coming together at one event. That happened at the Diversity Scholarship Foundation's Unity Awards Dinner, where the DSF and its president, Hon. Jesse G. Reyes, brought together an array of bar organizations and bar presidents.

I have listened to the current leaders of Illinois' ethnic and minority bar associations narrate the "guided tours" of the history of their associations and express their gratitude for those who influenced their ascents to leadership. I have left their bar installations, meetings, and celebrations more enriched and enlightened.

I believe I am a better leader for having had these experiences and that our association is better for this enrichment of its president. I am also convinced that the ISBA is better because so many of the members of these "legal communities" that we call bar associations are also members of the ISBA.