Diversity

Meet Kendra Abercrombie, Who Is Laying the Foundation for a More Diverse Profession

Kendra AbercrombieHi, I’m Kendra Abercrombie. I joined the Commission on Professionalism in June as its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Manager. In this role, I lead the Commission’s educational and advocacy initiatives aimed at promoting DEI in the legal and justice systems.

If you follow the Commission’s blogs, which I hope you do, you may have seen my byline on articles I’ve co-written with our Executive Director Jayne Reardon (“Interrupting Bias in our Judiciary”) or our Chief Counsel Mark Palmer (“What Are Today’s Law Students Learning”).

However, I would like to use my first solo blog post as an opportunity to introduce myself and share why DEI is so important to me.

Abercrombie family photo
Abercrombie family photo (Kendra is the youngest)

First, the basics

I was born and raised in Greenville, SC, by two loving parents, James and Alice Abercrombie, who wanted more for me and my siblings than they had growing up.

My parents came from very humble backgrounds. Both were raised in the South and have faced discrimination based on the color of their skin since they were born.

The color of their skin was even an obstacle when trying to provide for us. When my mom was searching for a home for my family, available properties were often suddenly “off the market” or unavailable for viewing when the relator realized she was a Black woman.

I share this story because the person I am today and my passion for the work I do is a direct result of the experiences I had as a child.

Introduction to DEI

The first time I heard the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion used together, I was a 10th grader at Christ Church Episcopal School (CCES) in Greenville.

As one of the few Black students in attendance at the time, the school wanted to make sure I not only felt included but also had access to additional resources to help me.

I had attended private school my entire life, one of the many financial sacrifices my parents made to ensure my success, so I knew what it felt like to be the only Black girl in the room or even the school.

However, this experience was different. It showed me that there were administrators and teachers at CCES who recognized my feelings and were there to support me, so I didn’t feel alone.

One of these administrators was Greg Hood, Director of Diversity and a football coach who helped a friend and me create the Council on Equity and Justice at CCES.

Kendra Abercrombie and Coach Hood
Kendra, Coach Hood (right), and Keith Barksdale (left)

The council started by focusing on students like me, making sure we felt included in the space we were in. However, in just a year, the council extended its reach. In addition to making sure diverse individuals had a safe space, the council focused on spreading awareness of why DEI efforts were important to us and should be important to others too.

So, at 15 I was attending conferences and having conversations much like the ones I’m having today, but instead of the legal profession, I was focused on diversifying the consortium of private schools in America.

My time on the council planted a seed that would eventually prompt me to change my career path and lead me to where I am today.

As an aside, while the council’s name has changed, it’s still an active student organization at CCES, with about 20 student members.

Kendra at a diversity conference in high school
Kendra (in green) at a diversity conference in high school.

Where does the law fit in?

I’ve known that I wanted to go to law school since I was 8. The 8-year-old me thought I would go to law school, graduate, and make partner at a Big Firm before I turned 30. Oh, and don’t forget the husband and two kids who would complete my perfectly planned life.

It’s okay to take a break here and laugh.

While I enjoyed law school, my dream as an 8-year-old slowly began to fade and morph into something new.

As a first-generation law school graduate, there was no family guidebook laying out a path for me to follow. Pursuing a legal career was not only completely foreign to me, but to my family and our closest friends too. So, I made it my goal to help students in my position navigate the process.

This is where my love for the legal field and DEI intersected and soon wed to become my career focus.

Career beginnings

Working in legal education is where I really got my footing. To change the makeup of the legal profession, I believed that I must first work to change the barrier of entry and guide students around the hidden roadblocks that I had discovered.

Working in diversity recruitment and initiatives at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, I saw the difference this deliberate action made in the lives of the students I worked with and also within the spaces I worked.

For example, because of the relationships I built with former co-workers, they could come to me to ask questions that helped expand their knowledge and commitment to diversity.

However, as Maurer students began to graduate and enter the legal field, I began noticing a bigger issue: The legal field itself.

Former students would often reach out to me and share stories of horrible experiences they were having in practice. And these stories would often come from students of color, students who were openly LGBTQ, and women.

They weren’t sharing about the long work hours or heavy caseloads, which everyone can expect during their first few years of practice. Instead, they told me of being subjected to blatant issues of discriminatory behavior, all while maintaining their caseloads and struggling to find belonging as the only diverse member of their department or even their firm.

Year after year, the number of students reaching out to me increased, and I knew it was time to use my voice in a new way.

Why the Commission on Professionalism?

When I read the mission of the Commission on Professionalism, which is to “promote a culture of civility and inclusion, in which Illinois lawyers and judges embody the ideals of the legal profession in service to the administration of justice in our democratic society,” I was immediately intrigued.

My work closing the access to information gap and creating pipelines for traditionally underrepresented law students didn’t stop at law school graduation.

Once those students traveled through educational pipelines, they needed systems and resources in place to assist them throughout their careers.

That is what I hope to do at the Commission on Professionalism. The next generation of lawyers is here. To retain their talent and ensure their success, we must work to create a solid foundation for them in the legal profession.

I look forward to working with you all to build this foundation in Illinois.

Kendra receiving an award
Kendra (in yellow) receiving an award from Maurer’s Black Law Student Association.

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