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The firm hosts a variety of diversity related events. In June 2017, the firm celebrated its 16th Annual Diversity Dinner. More than 190 Jenner & Block lawyers and summer associates gathered for a dinner to celebrate and affirm the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts. This event included meeting the 2017 Diversity Scholars and Grant Folland Scholar (a dedicated scholarship for a law student who is an advocate for LGBT Rights at the University of Chicago Law School). The keynote speaker, Jenner & Block lawyers and summer associates from all five of the firm’s offices convened in the Chicago Conference Center to enjoy the firm’s 16th annual Diversity Dinner – an opportunity to celebrate the firm’s commitment to diversity in the workplace and beyond, to honor the diversity scholars and to hear an inspiring talk from keynote speaker Jameel Jaffer. Jameel is the inaugural director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute and former deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where he litigated some of the most significant post-9/11 cases involving national security and civil liberties. Much of this work involved seeking disclosure of government information and included a US Supreme Court case – Clapper v. Amnesty International – that Jameel argued as Hurricane Sandy was hitting Washington, DC.
The Knight First Amendment Institute, which opened its doors in January, was established by Columbia University and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to preserve and expand First Amendment rights in the digital age. Among today’s threats to the First Amendment, Jameel cited government secrecy, the privatization of the public sphere and the chilling effect of corporate and government surveillance.
Over the years, the Diversity Dinner has had many distinguished speakers, including 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
The Diversity & Inclusion Speakers Series, hosted by the D&I Committee, invites guests from all offices to speak about contemporary issues related to diversity. Partner Damon Y. Smith’s grandfather, Colonel Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, visited the firm’s Washington, DC office as a speaker for Jenner & Block’s 2017 diversity series.
The program began with a brief documentary about Colonel McGee, who one day in August 1944 shot down a German fighter in Czechoslovakia. It was his first confirmed victory in World War II. During his presentation, Colonel McGee focused not so much on his own achievements as a Tuskegee Airman, but rather on the achievements of his fellow fighter pilots, the first African American military aviators in the US Armed Forces. He mentioned military reports detailing that blacks could never serve the country as pilots. He recalled Jim Crow laws of the era and warnings against patronizing businesses or visiting certain places when he left the northern United States to travel to Alabama for training in 1941. Yet, Colonel McGee said he dwelled not on obstacles but on his goal of becoming a fighter pilot, focusing on the opportunity to do something that had been denied.
Today, Colonel McGee often speaks to youth, highlighting the need to know history and the four “P’s”: perceive, prepare, perform and persevere. By the time he retired in 1973, Colonel McGee had served the United States in three wars and had flown 409 aerial combat missions. In 2007, he received the Congressional Gold Medal. He has been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Previous speakers include: