Q&A With Three Black Lawyers Who Are Leading Illinois Bar Associations

Each year, Black History Month recognizes the contributions, sacrifices, and legacy of African Americans who helped shape—and continue to shape—the culture of our nation.

During February and throughout the year, the Commission celebrates the achievements and heritage of Black lawyers and judges, and highlights the important work of bar associations and other legal organizations that focus on issues concerning the Black community.

We recently spoke to three Black lawyers who are leaders in Illinois bar associations:

These attorneys are working to combat challenges that exist for Black lawyers, judges, and law students, build fellowship in the legal community, and support the participation of Black and other minorities in the legal system.

Below, we asked them about the initiatives their bar associations are working on and how lawyers can learn more about the experiences of Black Americans.

What is one project your bar association is working on that you’re really excited about?

Raymond Rushing head shot
Raymond Rushing

Rushing: My bar theme this year is “The Future Is US!” It is a direct call to action to millennial and Gen Z attorneys to be the change we want to see and to come home to the bar to join together to make a lasting impact for both the CCBA and the community.

In that regard, we held our first-ever Leadership Summit last June. And, more importantly, during the Leadership Summit, we unveiled the inaugural class of attorneys selected for the CCBA Next Generation Awards.

The CCBA Next Generation Awards recognize the next generation of powerhouse Black attorneys who have demonstrated excellence, leadership, and service in their profession and community.

Today, when many things seem to be going backward, we are determined to move forward, together. Recognizing these amazing attorneys and calling them to their home bar does just that.

Renai S. Rodney headshot
Renai Rodney

Rodney: We are preparing for our upcoming Spring Fundraiser and Luncheon, “Celebrating Chief Legal Officers – Charting a Course for Change.”

This year’s luncheon, to be held on April 25, 2024, is a celebration of the corporate and general counsels working to improve the diversity and inclusion of law firms and companies across the globe.

Our goal is to highlight, uplift, and support these champions as they work to transform the legal profession into a sustainable and equitable environment that ensures more leadership, development, and partnership opportunities for diverse talent, especially Black women lawyers who are often the most overlooked.

More information about how to support BWLA’s Spring Fundraiser and Luncheon can be found at www.bwla.org.

Michael Wilder headshot
Michael Wilder

Wilder: [The Black Men Lawyers’ Association is] currently working on our Global Annual Summit and Black Tie Scholarship Gala, which is set for June 6 – 8 in downtown Chicago.

The Summit will feature roundtable discussions, keynote speakers, networking breakfasts and lunches, and social outings. The gala will have a cocktail hour, entertainment, dinner, scholarship awards, and a raffle.

What is one book you would recommend lawyers read to learn more about the history, culture, and achievements of Black Americans?

Rushing: While I am a student of history and an avid reader of the works of John Hope Franklin, I want to recommend a different book; one tied to history but that provides a roadmap for the future success of the Black community and all communities. It is titled “Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy” by Maggie Anderson.

It is an excellent read and gives concrete examples, big and small, of how we can change entire communities for the better.

Rodney: “Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley” by Tamiko Brown Nagin is a compelling examination of the life of the first Black woman appointed to the U.S. District Court, Judge Constance Baker Motley.

In addition to her history-making turn on the bench, the book details Judge Motley’s earlier rise through the ranks of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a lawyer who worked alongside Thurgood Marshall to achieve civil rights victories across the country for African Americans.

The book also covers Motley’s election as the first Black woman state senator in New York and her election to the office of Manhattan Borough President. The impact of Judge Motley on African American history cannot be overstated.

Wilder: “Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires.”

From HarperCollins Publishers’ description of “Black Fortunes:” “Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of industrious, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success…Nearly all the unforgettable personalities in this amazing collection were often attacked, demonized, or swindled out of their wealth. Black Fortunes illuminates as never before the birth of the black business titan.”


Staying up to date on issues impacting the legal profession is vital to your success. Subscribe here to get the Commission’s weekly news delivered to your inbox.

Early Bird Registration is Open for 2024 Future Is Now: Legal Services Conference

Honoring the Unsung Heroes of Black History Month: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Strategies for Navigating Difficult Conversations About Diversity in the Legal Profession

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

One thought on “Q&A With Three Black Lawyers Who Are Leading Illinois Bar Associations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *