Goal IX Newsletter

Fall 2004, Volume 10, Number 4

Searching for Freedom and Justice: by Stephen Zack

Stephen Zack

I lived in Cuba until I was 14 years old at which time I came to the United States with the rest of my family and my grandparents. My recollection of Cuba is deeply embedded in me. I recall before Castro freely speaking English and Spanish in public with no concern for my safety or well-being. After Castro no one would think of speaking English in public without being concerned for their own safety. I remember watching on television visits from the Soviet Union and China to Cuba and the changes in society accompanying Fidel Castro’s lengthy denouncement of the United States and the concepts of liberty and democracy.

When I was told that I had been elected Chair of the House of Delegates my first thoughts were of my grandfather, Jose Rabinovich, who had come to the United States from Cuba with me in the summer of 1961. My mother was born in Cuba but my grandfather was born in Russia in 1907. He left Russia in search of liberty and arrived in Cuba and was given the opportunity of starting his own business was a pushcart selling ice cream. From that humble beginning he continued to work and prosper and brought over his brothers and sisters from Russia who likewise enjoyed the blessings of liberty. As a Cuban Jew my mother was able to practice her religion and to live a life basically free of governmental intervention until Fidel Castro changed a democracy into a brutal dictatorship.

When I arrived in the United States with my grandfather, I clearly remember him saying to me that he was sad to be a refugee for the second time in his life. He knew that he would never be a refugee again. He said “If the United States falls, there will be no place else to go.” Those words will forever be at the center of my personal beliefs and philosophy that the United States was and will always be the last bastion of freedom, and that we must protect liberty and justice.

The early 60’s was a very difficult time for the Cuban immigrant communities who had left behind everything they owned and had to begin again. Only in America could that opportunity result in one of the most successful migrations in history, through hard work and the opportunities offered by this, our great country.

In those days, my mother would go to the Jewish refugee service to help process Jewish Cubans who had migrated to the United States. She worked in a building that was ultimately known as the “Freedom Tower” located in Downtown Miami in the old Miami News Building. Across the street today burns the Torch of Freedom dedicated to those who died in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

In Cuba I had attended Cuban-American schools, which meant that I did not speak English with an accent, particularly since my father was American and we spoke English as well as Spanish at home. Many of my friends were not so fortunate. During that time, it was not unusual to hear people in Miami say “Come back into this store when you can speak English.” Years later, as a young lawyer, I heard that comment uttered by a judge in a courtroom in Miami.

That was the beginning of the group of people, including myself, that helped form the Cuban American Bar Association. Today it has over 1600 members; and its president is a young lawyer in my firm named Antonio Castro. The Cuban American Bar Association today continues to fight and oppose discrimination in any form.

Later in my life I was privileged to serve as general counsel to Governor Bob Graham and have the responsibility of making recommendations on state judicial selections. Governor Graham always selected judges with great ability and temperament and ones that also were a reflection of their community; Black, Hispanic, Haitian, Female, etc…and without regard to party affiliation. When later on I served as President of the National Conference of Bar Presidents I was told by Jerry Shestack, who was then president of the ABA, that a President of the National Conference of Bar Presidents had never addressed the National Bar Association opening Assembly; I asked to make that address. Today the National Bar Association has active members in the National Conference of Bar Presidents and members sitting on its executive counsel. This is the nature of the outreach that is necessary for our profession and association to continue to survive and thrive.

When I was elected President of the Florida Bar I was asked “what it was like to be the first Hispanic President of a State Bar Association”. Frankly, the question seemed somewhat strange to me because I thought of the Bar Association as being of all races, creeds or colors; we were all lawyers. During the years that followed I had the privilege of helping and seeing many Hispanic bar presidents, women presidents and presidents of color, at local, state and national levels including our most recent ABA president, Dennis Archer and our current president Robert Grey, who have brought great credit to our profession and association. I hope we will no longer need to be asked “what is it like to be the first...”, since it will be common place that all segments of our society will hold leadership positions.

The future must continue to build on the victories and lessons of the past. Today prejudice is not as likely to be open or confrontational. Most people understand what is “politically correct”; however, this does not mean that prejudice has ceased to exist. It must be the role of the legal profession through the policies of the House of Delegates and the activities of the American Bar Association to live up to its credo “Justice For All”. As Chair of the House I have made appointments based on the broadest possible cross section of our profession. Our agenda must emphasize the need for continued sensitivity to the role of all lawyers in our society and we must lead by example.

As Chair of the House I also sit on the Board of Governors and preside when the president is unavailable. Whenever I am given that opportunity on the Board of Governors or in my role as Chair of the House I will continue to fight for sensitivity and equality. Our minority groups today will comprise the majority of this country in the first part of this century. The legal profession must be a part of and help that transition.

All of the above events helped shape my life and my strong belief that all prejudices need to be strongly opposed and every opportunity must be given equally to all members of our society. It is a great privilege to serve as Chair of the House. While I sit on that perch conducting the business of the House I will also be remembering the young boy who held his grandfather’s hand searching for freedom and justice.

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