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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 2, 202005:20 AM EST

We must work together to build bridges

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The Jacksonville Bar Association will rise to this challenge.

By Michelle Bedoya Barnett, JBA president

Michelle Bedoya Barnett

There are those inconsequential conversations that we push to the back of our minds. There also are memories that stay with us forever, that shape our world view and our view of ourselves.

For me, one of those formative memories occurred in the first grade when a classmate asked, “Are you black or are you Indian? Because if you’re black, we can’t be friends.”

As it turns out, I was neither. As a 6-year-old, I did not understand the impact of her words, I merely informed her that I am Hispanic.

But what if my answer had been yes? Would I have been disregarded or deemed unworthy?

In recent weeks, I have replayed this conversation in my mind and wondered how my life might be different if I was Black. The recent protests for racial justice have called many of us to challenge the things we always have accepted and the way we conduct our lives personally and professionally. 

I want you to know that, as the leader of this organization, I am devoted to identifying ways to generate discussion and understanding on race-related issues. I assure you that the Jacksonville Bar Association will rise to this challenge. 

I am proud of the work the JBA is already doing for race relations. When I look back at my growth opportunities it has been through conversations with many of you at Bar events that have helped me grow in my understanding of the disparities that have been and that continue to be.

The JBA Diversity Committee, with the leadership of Christen Luikart and Joni Poitier, is working on programming to build on our study circles that have been facilitating discussions on the issues of race.

If you are looking for a safe outlet to have an intellectual and respectful discussion, I encourage you to reach out to JBA Executive Director Craig Shoup and express your interest in participating in a study circle.

As attorneys, what binds us is not our skin color, socioeconomic background or ethnicity, but our shared education, our character and our dedication to utilizing the practice of law to give voice to the voiceless. 

If you are looking for a way to positively influence young people, consider becoming a mentor through the Ribault Mentoring Program.

Through this program, students at Ribault High School are paired with members of the Jacksonville legal community. Students learn to conduct a mock trial, visit local universities and the Duval County Courthouse, City Hall and other sites.

It is our hope that underprivileged youth may be exposed to careers in the law and achieve their dreams to practice law and that the legal profession benefits from becoming a more inclusive and diverse environment.

Most of us can identify a lawyer we knew in our youth who sparked our interest in the law. I recently read a statistic that 3% of lawyers in the United States are African American despite the fact that 13% of our population is African American. This needs to change and we can serve as a catalyst for this change.  

The JBA Diversity Committee recently published a list of action items for our members:

  • Speak up publicly.
  • Talk with your children and other young people about racism.
  • Challenge your own stereotypical beliefs.
  • Mentor someone who doesn’t look like you.
  • Participate in a study circle.
  • Join the JBA Diversity Committee.

Let’s work together to build bridges, spread love and bring our community together to heal and make needed changes.

To my Black colleagues, on behalf of the Jacksonville Bar Association, know that we hear you. While we do not know your pain, we stand with you.

We respect you. We are better because of you. We will do better because of you.

Michelle Bedoya Barnett is a founding partner of Alexander DeGance Barnett, focusing on labor and employment law.

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