The events across the county and in our community reflecting racism in ways that we who are white may not have fully perceived are now front and center. The endless stream of social media and news videos reflecting the range of racist conduct our Black and brown brothers and sisters have experienced have led many of us as individuals and as institutions to engage in self-analysis. Organizations that facilitate such efforts have recently been inundated with requests for assistance. Should we have taken these steps earlier? Certainly. But that is not a reason to opt out now.
Like so many organizations, the MCBA is now asking, “What does it mean for an organization to be anti-racist?” “How does the Monroe County Bar Association work toward that goal?” “How do we ensure this is an ongoing effort that extends beyond the current board?” The members of MCBA’s Board of Trustees and I have been exploring these issues, and are committed to continuing to do so.
In September, Monroe County Bar Association board members participated in a two and a half hour workshop with Calvin Eaton of 540WMain, which focused on these issues.
One thing I took from Calvin’s guidance and our discussion was the need to stop feeling that I have to speak perfectly in order to speak out. Instead, he led us to recognize that there might be times we may not manage the perfect response to a problem, but simply saying, “That makes me uncomfortable” or “I’m uncomfortable” are responses that can still address a problem or get a conversation rolling.
On Sept. 30, our Board met to discuss how we could implement some of what we learned. We will be creating a plan with Mr. Eaton to enhance our practices and focus on diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. I am so grateful for the dedication of our board to focus on anti-racism, and the members’ commitment to improve our organization.
Some of the ideas we have shared as a board and as individuals include taking steps to ensure that our CLEs include diverse speakers, and that topics are viewed through the lenses of a wide range of audience members. While we are honored and fortunate to have experienced presenters teaching our programs, sometimes we rely too heavily on those so generous with their time, without reaching out to new teachers.
We are also striving to enhance the diversity of our membership and our leadership. One way we seek to do that is with the creation of our newly formed Membership Committee. It will be part of the charge of that committee to find ways of enhancing diversity in our organization. If you are interested in joining this committee, please let us know by emailing Kevin Ryan at email@example.com or by calling him at 585-315-6666. Our Nominating Committee, chaired by Carolyn Nussbaum, will soon be recommending nominees for board and leadership positions. If you are interested in joining that committee, please email or call Kevin Ryan to let us know.
Another discussion we recently had focused on ensuring that our priority in seeking diversity in the Rochester legal community be reflected not just in our words, but in our actions and budgeting.
As we seek to develop a plan, we have to look at our warts. And as with so many things in life, it can be hard for those on the inside to see what others see from the outside. So, if you have suggestions, requests or recommendations, we want to invite you to share them with us. Even if you think it will be a difficult conversation. As we are all learning now, sometimes the difficult conversations are the most valuable and educational ones. But let’s keep having them. As Calvin Eaton recently informed our Board, it’s important for us to learn how to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Jill Paperno is president of the Monroe County Bar Association. She is First Assistant Public Defender at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office.