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Firm Hosts 17th Annual Diversity Dinner
During the firm’s 17th Annual Diversity Dinner, Keynote Speaker Tina Tchen shared her favorite quote from a woman who received legal representation through Tina’s legal defense fund. “I feel brave…now that I have a lawyer, I feel brave,” the woman said in a Washington Post profile on her case.
“That is the thing we have uniquely as lawyers,” Tina told the audience of more than 200 Jenner & Block lawyers, summer associates, diversity scholars and guests. “We are given, as part of the franchise, a unique position to do in ways that no other profession in our community has and that is the ability to give that [bravery] to a person.”
The former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and leader of the Times Up Legal Defense Fund, an organization that addresses sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace, Tina sat down for an interview moderated by Partner Reid Schar at the firm’s annual event.
She discussed growing up in Cleveland as a first-generation immigrant of Chinese refugees: “My father was deliberate in choosing an area that had very few Chinese because of the stories of discrimination and hostility that his Chinese friends and family who lived in the concentrated areas of the coasts were experiencing.”
She also spoke about working for the Obama Administration, the benefits of working with diverse teams and structural barriers that keep women and minorities from advancing in their careers. One of the initiatives Tina worked on while at the White House was the Working Family’s Agenda, a series of policies and initiatives the administration developed to promote diversity in the workplace. Among those issues were the structural challenges people face in advancing their careers.
“In order to stay economically competitive as a country, the United States has to get better at the issues…We are one of two countries in the world without a paid maternity leave policy,” she said, further explaining how the absence of a maternity leave policy and the lack of affordable childcare are not sustainable for our workforce.
Tina also talked about helping to form the Times Up Legal Defense Fund last Fall. At the time, she was working in Los Angeles with women in Hollywood, planning for The United State of Women Summit, an initiative of the White House Council for Women and Girls. “They told me about an informal group of actresses coming together immediately in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story to try to support one another, but also how they could use that moment to make sustainable change in their workplaces as well as for lower-income women who were speaking out.”
Tina recalled reading letters women received from the lawyers of rich and powerful men, and those women being subjected to “legal bullying” for speaking out on their assaults. “The only way to cut off the legal direct bullying is to get the women lawyers,” she said.
Tina went on to explain how vital it is to be consistently intentional to create change: “This isn’t a ‘diversity month initiative.’ This isn’t an ‘every other year’ we’re going to do sexual harassment training and forget about it in-between.”
Asked to give advice to the summer associates and law students, Tina responded: “As lawyers, we have the unique ability to enrich what we do with pro bono work not just because it’s good to do. You also get to exercise and flex different muscles, use different skills and be engaged with clients and see immediate results.”
Over the years, the Diversity Dinner has had many distinguished speakers, including Jameel Jaffer, the inaugural director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute and former deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union; Kenji Yoshino, author and NYU law professor; Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of EBONY and JET magazines; Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, the first African American woman elected to the US Senate; civil rights icon and activist Ruby Bridges; retired U.S. District Court Judge George Leighton, the first African American judge to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court; Michele Coleman Mayes, one of America’s top black lawyers and most influential general counsel; Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s National Marriage Project Director; and US District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, the first Hispanic federal judge in Illinois and a Jenner & Block alumnus. In 2003, President Barack Obama, then a little-known Illinois state senator, was the guest speaker.
In addition to our Diversity Dinner, the firm hosts and co-hosts a number of diversity related programs. For example, before and after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, Former Partner Paul Smith spoke internally at an LGBT Forum Q&A for Summer Associates in the Washington and Chicago offices and externally at the American Constitution Society and Constitutionality Accountability Center, as well as at several schools’ OutLaw events. Our lawyers regularly moderate panels, are invited to speak about their careers and volunteer with community organizations.
Diversity Speaker Series
The Diversity & Inclusion Speakers Series, hosted by the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, invites guests from all offices to speak about contemporary issues related to diversity. On May 21, guest speaker Sam Mihara visited Chicago to headline the firm’s first installment of the 2018 Diversity Speaker Series.
In 1942, Sam and his family were among more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were loaded on to trains and sent to internment camps across the United States. They would spend the next three years in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, where they shared a single bedroom in one of the 450-plus barracks in the camp.
Today, Sam is a national speaker whose talks focus on his family’s imprisonment, the conditions for prisoners and their eventual release and return home, current detainment camps for Central American refugees and the possibility of a similar civil rights abuse in contemporary times. He discussed the dehumanizing conditions of the internment camp, from open-stall bathrooms and poor food quality to designated prisoner numbers.
“When the police or the military police come and remove you from your home, you have lost liberty. You are being detained. And when they do that without any justice, not even a hearing, they are in violation of the most important aspect of your constitutional right,” Sam said as he gestured to photos of Japanese families and children on their way to internment camps.
Following Sam’s presentation, Yale Law Professor James Forman, Jr. visited the firm’s New York office on June 4 for the second installment of the Diversity Speaker Series. James discussed his 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. He started his presentation by sharing his motivation for writing the book, which chronicles the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American elected officials in the nation’s urban centers.
“I wanted to write a book that captured the diversity and complexity of perspectives within the black community,” he said.
During his presentation, James discussed mass incarceration of African American men and women; the constraints on the first substantial cohort of African American mayors, judges and police chiefs amid the surge in crime and drug addiction; and shared stories from his book about the cases he worked on as a former public defender in Washington, DC.
Previous speakers include:
Partner Reid Schar (left) interviews keynote speaker Tina Tchen at the 17th Annual Diversity Dinner
Partner Scott Wilkens discusses first amendment rights with guest speaker Jameel Jaffer.
Guest speaker Ruby Bridges talks with Partner Reggie Hill
Guest speaker Kenji Yoshino talks with former Partner Paul Smith at the Annual Diversity Dinner.