Legacy: Celebrating The History And Future Of Black Women Lawyers

black women lawyersI remember my first Black Women Lawyers’ Association (BWLA) Summit. Because of other obligations (forgotten now) I was only able to attend one session. Judge Ann Claire Williams of the 7th Circuit spoke on a judicial panel with four other black woman judges. I remember they spoke about their career paths, the challenges they faced on a daily basis, and their advice to other young lawyers aspiring to the bench. But most of all, I remember the bond that the five women shared with each other. They spoke about their personal friendship. They mentioned how they recommended each other for nominations. They spoke about sponsoring each other, mentoring each other, and lifting each other so they could all rise to the top.

It was my very first BWLA meeting. I joined the Association after the Summit and ever since have been surrounded by a community of black women lawyers and judges who share those same experiences with each other, every single day.

So when BWLA President Kenya Jenkins-Wright asked me to help coordinate programming for the Summit, my immediate answer was, “Yes!” Kenya also started her BWLA involvement through a Summit. “I thought it was the most amazing experience of my life,” Kenya says. “It was great to see women running the room, speaking about their various life and career paths.” Kenya remembers the BWLA president and vice-president on stage, discussing the importance of BWLA and what BWLA meant to them. She recalls both women in tears as they spoke about their experiences as black women lawyers and what it meant for them to stand in front of their peers in that room.

A National Summit for Black Women Lawyers

Titled Legacy: Celebrating our History and Charting our Future, the 2017 National Summit of Black Women Lawyers will take place at the Hilton Chicago, March 30 – April 1. The Summit focuses on how black women lawyers have transformed the profession and how they will continue to impact the future, both individually and as a community of women.

Summit Co-Chair Alexandra Glispie says that this Summit will continue to improve on past Summits. “Starting with the general counsel panel on Thursday night and moving to the criminal justice reform panel on Saturday morning, we’re going to offer new and expansive programming designed to appeal to today’s lawyers.” The traditional starting your own law firm panel, she explains, will focus instead on how to manage and sustain your law firm. Another panel on building your law practice will discuss how every lawyer – solo practitioners, government attorneys, large law firm attorneys – can develop their own practice inside their organizations. There will be speakers discussing the implications of Brexit, implicit bias, sports and entertainment, and “the hottest job in America,” the chief compliance officer. Says Summit Co-Chair Sarah Hawkins, “We’re going to be innovative with our topics. We want to make sure that we’re showcasing all the diverse areas in which black lawyers excel as well as offer opportunities for both personal and professional development.”

At the end of the day, BWLA Vice President Erica Kirkwood hopes that this year’s attendees get practical advice on how to advance their own careers while sharing stories of support and strength. “We want to bring like minds together to fellowship and share ideas about how to empower women in the legal profession …To show them trendsetters in the legal field and provide them with the ambition and the tools to accomplish goals in their professional lives.”

The centerpiece of the Summit will be the Friday night Legacy Ball, a black tie affair featuring Valerie Jarrett, Special Advisor to President Barack Obama. Says Kenya,

It’s truly inspiring that Valerie Jarrett, a long time Chicagoan, who advised the President of the United States for 8 years, is the featured speaker of our Legacy Ball. She represents the proposition that black women should never limit themselves and should strive for the top. Nothing is out of reach, not even the White House.

Also unique to BWLA is the Saturday community service project where all attendees are invited to spend a few hours giving back to the surrounding community. BWLA has long done a community service project as part of the conference. “The goal,” Kenya points out, “is to make sure we do outreach and something positive for the community. This isn’t just about making business and connections. It’s about making our community a better place.”

Why Black Women Lawyers Should Attend the National Summit

Why should black women lawyers attend? For the planning committee, it goes even beyond the speakers and programming. As Sarah explains, “It is important for us as black women to celebrate our progress and achievements, while we continue to envision and plan our next steps. The Summit is a wonderful opportunity to feel inspired and be empowered.” “You may never know,” Kenya adds, “who you might meet and where they might end up.” Erica speaks about her hopes for attendees:

I hope that attorneys feel empowered in ways that they have never been before … I hope that attorneys see Valerie Jarrett and know that one day they can be in the White House advising the President. I hope they see Judge Ann Claire Williams and see that they can sit on a federal court and make impactful rulings in federal cases … I want attorneys to strive to be on corporate boards, General Counsels and even CEOs!

Alex leaves with perhaps the best pitch of all. “We’ll be in Chicago! It’s a wonderful city to be in, and especially if the weather keeps it up, we are going to have a fantastic time.”

Legacy: Celebrating our History and Charting our Future will take place on Thursday March 30, 2017 through April 1, 2017. The first session will be at the University Club Chicago; the remaining sessions at the Hilton Chicago. Register for the Summit and the Legacy Ball.

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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