As a longtime bar leader accustomed to the challenges of wrangling volunteers, State Bar of Georgia President Dawn Jones was unprepared for the response she received when the bar’s board of governors established a new bar committee in July to explore racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
“I had 56 people who either called, emailed or texted me within a week, who were interested and, frankly, very vocal about serving,” she says.
Adds Atlanta attorney Anita Wallace Thomas, whom Jones tapped to lead the committee, “She had me at ‘Seeking Equal Justice and Addressing Racism & Racial Bias [the committee title].’ So, I was all on board.”
Similar scenes have played out at dozens of bars nationwide in the weeks and months that followed Floyd’s death and the numerous citizen protests and demonstrations that subsequently unfolded. Special committees have been formed, columns have been written, racial awareness seminars have been launched and online forums have been jam-packed as bars and their members respond to the racial reckoning and social upheaval unleashed by the Floyd killing.
Many bar leaders say they are focused on initiatives and programs—many new, some already existing—that take aim at addressing the legal issues surrounding racial inequity, both in their communities and in their local criminal and civil justice systems. And reactions from many bar members, they say, have been swift, forceful and determined, despite complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—a phenomenon that many say has actually helped stir interest.
Although many racial inequity initiatives are up and running, concerns still linger about their staying power in the months and years ahead. But many leaders say they sense a different atmosphere that offers hope that bars can play an important and lasting role in tackling systemic racism and inequity.
(Note: For additional information about what some bars are doing to promote racial equity as well as diversity and inclusion, please see the ABA Division for Bar Services Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resources Page.)