Shirley Chisholm once said that “service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living here on this earth.”
I start with this quote to lay the foundation for what the Cook County Bar Association and its members have continued to do this bar year during the pandemic. In spite of COVID-19, the CCBA started this bar year with our installation banquet, and for the first time it was virtual. During the installation, the 2020-21 Executive Officers and Board of Directors were sworn into office.
We also held our awards ceremony virtually. We honored many prominent and hardworking members of the bar with historical awards. Some of those honorees include Rep. Lauren Underwood, My Block My Hood My City founder Jahmal Cole and U.S. District Judge Franklin Valderrama, to name a few.
As we approached the fall of 2020, CCBA members continued to serve our communities through the Lawyers in the Community Committee. This dynamic committee of CCBA is led by two phenomenal young assistant state’s attorneys, Antonio Lee and Alexzandria Johnson. This committee stepped up and distributed PPE to voters in four locations on Election Day, collected and delivered donations for the Breakthrough organization for a holiday drive and held a virtual legal clinic in March. The legal clinic was presented in partnership with the Cook County Bar Association Foundation. Members of the CCBA continue to serve the communities in which they live.
Because of the pandemic, like so many other bar associations, we were forced to be creative with our programming prioritizing the health and safety of our members and presenters. Hence, the 2020 Job Fair chaired by Illinois Human Rights Commissioner LeDeidre Turner and Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila attorney Raymond Rushing was held virtually on Jan. 8. We had over 400 students register and receive interviews from the employers in attendance. Our real estate section, chaired by attorney Tracie R. Porter, provided us with some excellent virtual CLE workshops as well.
As we entered into 2021, the CCBA Legacies of Excellence Black History series ran two times each week during Black History Month. It was through these short video vignettes that we highlighted the lives of some great CCBA legacies such as Judge Edith S. Sampson, Ida B. Platt, Judge George N. Leighton, Judge Blanche Manning, Judge R. Eugene Pincham, and CCBA and civil rights great Lawrence Kennon.
We were also honored to learn firsthand from CCBA and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members Rep. Justin Slaughter and Sen. Elgie R. Sims Jr. about the extremely important House Bill 3653 they drafted and sponsored which instituted critical and necessary police reform.
Our legislative committee is chaired by CCBA Past President Dartesia Pitts. We were honored to celebrate retired Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall with our Legends Award this year at the end of this Women’s History Month on March 31via Zoom.
We continue to work with the National Bar Association and invest in our youth as we are coordinating the MLK Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition for all high school juniors and seniors.
The question that students will be required to write and speak on is very relevant for our times: “If Dr. King were alive today, would he support the call to defund police departments across the nation as a reform to police brutality?”
CCBA members will review the essays and choose a winner to represent the CCBA in the national competition. The winners of the national competition will receive a scholarship ranging from $500 to $5,000.
The CCBA was founded and continues to serve and be on the frontline advocating for civil and economic rights for members of the Black community. We continue to advocate for inclusion and diversity in the legal community and the judiciary. We continue to be advocates for justice as there are still people to serve, laws that must be changed, and much work to be done.
Shirley Chisholm said it best in “Unbought and Unbossed,” published in 1970: “Laws will not eliminate prejudice from the hearts of human beings. But that is no reason to allow prejudice to continue to be enshrined in our laws to perpetuate injustice through inaction.”