Senator Cory Booker Headlines 20th Annual Diversity Dinner
For our 20th Diversity Dinner, we were honored to host a trailblazing lawyer and public servant Senator Cory Booker, who discussed his upbringing and the journey that led to the US Senate. In a conversation moderated by Partner Lindsay Harrison, Senator Booker said his father, Cary Alfred Booker, was the first Black salesmen hired by IBM in the Virginia/Washington, DC, area. His family endured racism and violence when they bought the house in New Jersey where he grew up, but ultimately the community gave their love and support.
“My family would constantly tell me that my brother and I were having a very unusual American experience, and that was born out of the sacrifices and struggles of millions of Americans who were willing to shed blood for our family,” he said. “By the time we were teenagers, we really felt the burden of this incredible privilege and the obligations that went along with it.”
Backed by his family and a nurturing community, he was an All-American football player, president of his class, and on his way to Stanford University by the time he was 18.
Moving to Newark after law school, he started a nonprofit to provide legal services for low-income families, helping tenants take on landlords. He served as Newark’s mayor from 2006 until 2013, and in 2013 he won a special election to represent New Jersey in the US Senate. He was re-elected to a full six-year term in November 2014 and again last year.
After seeing a drastic imbalance of diversity within Senate staff, Senator Booker led an effort to require Democratic Senators to publish their diversity statistics. “We got a little pushback on that, but every year since, more women and people of color have been hired on Senate staff, so they will be in the room when it happens – bringing entirely different lived experiences.”
Senator Booker also discussed the need to embrace empathy as a way past the country’s recent decline into extreme polarization, and how people in the majority shouldn’t fall into defensive crouches when faced with inequities.
“This is about all of us expanding our empathy, our moral imagination, and our capacity to love,” he said. “And love is not easy. It’s an active verb, it takes work. I understand that it can get exhausting and tiring, but we are all here for each other – to try to learn from each other. And it’s not my obligation to teach you, but it’s your obligation to ask questions, to learn, to expose yourself, and grow.”
The 2020 Diversity Dinner was keynoted by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. That discussion is available to view here.
Diversity Speaker Series
The Diversity Speaker Series, hosted by the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, invites guests to speak about contemporary issues related to diversity.
On June 24, 2021, the firm’s LBGTQ Forum hosted a discussion featuring Avery Belyeu, the Regional Director for the South Central Region of Lambda Legal. The conversation, “Let’s Get Brave Together: Courageous Conversations about Gender Identity and Expression,” was moderated by Associates Sarah Norman, and Manny Possolo. In her presentation, Avery discussed the differences between gender, gender identity, and gender expression; how to be an ally; and how to cultivate a more inclusive environment. Her presentation allowed our firm the opportunity to hear about the unique issues facing the transgender community in the workplace, especially now, in light of the recent surge in anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures around the nation, many of which have already become law, and an increase in hate crimes against transgender individuals, especially trans women of color.
Avery Belyeu is a trainer and consultant at Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary individuals, and those living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. Avery’s experience spans higher education, LGBTQ+ civil rights, and public health. She has trained thousands of professionals across the legal, higher education, and corporate sectors to create cultures of bravery and belonging that welcome and affirm all people, including LGBTQ individuals. Pride Month is celebrated in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, and is an opportunity to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities, including the leadership of trailblazers like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Brenda Howard, and to remind ourselves of the work that still remains to be done to advance equality. Jenner & Block has long been a leader advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ communities, and as we celebrate the values embodied by Pride Month, including the dignity and equality of all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals, we also recognize that the struggle is not over. Discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ communities continues in many forms, and as a values-driven firm, we will not stand by in silence. We will continue to support LGBTQ+ rights through litigation and other legal work, and remain steadfast in the fight against injustice.
On June 2, 2021, the Diversity and Inclusion team hosted a discussion featuring John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). The virtual event was moderated by Deepthika R. Appuhamy. Partners Ishan K. Bhabha, Carissa Coze, and Shoba Pillay took part in a conversation with Mr. Yang about the work of the AAJC, the unique issues facing AAPI communities, and the strategies to help combat the abhorrent increase in hate crimes targeting these Americans.
Mr. Yang leads the organization’s efforts to fight for civil rights and empower Asian Americans to create a more just America for all through public policy advocacy, education, and litigation. His extensive legal background enables AAJC to address systemic policies, programs, and legislative attempts to discriminate against and marginalize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other minority communities. Because of his expertise, Mr. Yang is regularly asked to speak to media on issues affecting the Asian Pacific American community.
Mr. Yang served in the Obama Administration as Senior Advisor for Trade and Strategic Initiatives at the US Department of Commerce, where he was the principal advisor to Secretary Penny Pritzker on issues related to Asia. Previously, Mr. Yang was a partner with a major Washington, DC law firm, and also worked in Shanghai, China as the legal director for the Asia-Pacific operations of a US Fortune 200 company. A former president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Mr. Yang has held several leadership positions and co-founded the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center – a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the direct service legal needs of Asian Pacific Americans in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
Previous speakers included:
Maggie Anderson, who, in 2009, took a radical pledge to buy exclusively from Black-owned businesses for an entire year. Her historic year of buying Black, known as "The Empowerment Experiment," garnered an unprecedented amount of attention from mainstream media and researchers. She spoke at the firm as a 2021 Diversity Speaker Series Speaker on Black business history, economic unity, racial justice, and business diversity.
Michelle King, an expert on gender equality in organizations currently leads UN Women’s Integrated Strategy for Innovation and Global Innovation Coalition for Change. She was previously Director of Inclusion at Netflix and hosts a popular podcast and has a book by the same name, called The Fix.
Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, has devoted his life to advocating for LGBT people and everyone living with HIV, eventually becoming Assistant Secretary of Education for President Obama, after which he led the Arcus Foundation, the world’s largest foundation for LGBT rights organizations, for five years. Kevin also founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Chief Judge Ruben Castillo spoke of his time growing up in the near west side of Chicago; moonlighting at night court during law school; his involvement with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the US Sentencing Commission; and his ultimate role as chief judge of the Northern District since 2013.
Judge Robert L. Wilkins of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Judge Wilkins spoke on the topics covered in his book, Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He described the endless obstacles and pervasive intolerance that supporters faced, starting with the fight to create a monument to honor the history and achievement of African-American soldiers at the end of the Civil War and ending with the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2012 by our first African-American president, Barack Obama.
Sarah McBride, Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary. In 2019, Sarah spoke about her struggle with gender identity, how others’ stories have helped shape her work and what lies ahead in the fight for equality. She also discussed stories from her book, Tomorrow Will be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality. Sarah described her experiences coming out as transgender to her family and classmates, falling in love and speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention where her speech marked the first time a transgender person addressed a national convention
- Sam Mihara, who spoke about his experience in Japanese internment camps. 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.
- James Forman, Jr., a Yale Law Professor who discussed his 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. 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.
- Colonel Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, the first African-American military aviators in the US Armed Forces. 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.
- David Lat, a former practicing lawyer, who penned Supreme Ambitions, a comedic legal novel in the mold of The Devil Wears Prada. David is the founder and managing editor of the legal blog Above The Law.
- Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza. Ms. De Castro spoke on the proposed DREAM Act, federal immigration policy and recent state legislation affecting immigrant communities.
- The Hon. Ruben Castillo, now chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Judge Castillo was the firm’s first Hispanic lawyer, the first Hispanic federal judge in Illinois and the first Hispanic individual to serve as chief judge of the Northern District.
- The Hon. Edward C. Prado, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Prado, known for participating in mentor programs for minority students in the San Antonio area, was a state district judge and a federal district court judge before being appointed to the federal Court of Appeals.
- Judge Tony Richardson spoke to the lawyers and summer associates on a number of topics, including his career and path to the bench, his current assignment handling juvenile dependency matters and the importance of diversity – including diversity of thought – on the bench and in the legal profession generally.
- Columbia University Law Professor Ted Shaw, then-head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who discussed major civil rights cases considered during the Supreme Court’s 2012 term, including Fisher v. University of Texas (affirmative action), Shelby County (voting rights) and Windsor and Perry (same-sex marriage).