chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

After the Bar

Public Service

A Call to Action: Creating Effective Social Justice Habits

Zachary Kimmel

A Call to Action: Creating Effective Social Justice Habits

Jump to:

Typically, firm-wide emails are the type of thing I glance at and move on. However, early this year, that consistent practice was turned on its head. Like many others, I received an email with the subject line—a call to action—sent by an attorney I deeply admire. The email, authored by Vanessa Kelly, expressed feelings of sadness and grief amid the recent death of George Floyd and shared the details of an interactive challenge meant to mobilize change—the 21-Day Equity Habit Building Challenge© pioneered by Dr. Eddie Moore. The challenge paired each of the 21 days with an equity building resource geared toward challenging the participant’s fundamental perspective concerning race dynamics in the United States.

After reading Vanessa’s email and invitation to participate, I quickly wrote back and asked if I could assist with this important project. Shortly after that, and with a team lead by Clark Hill’s diversity and inclusion chair, Earsa Jackson, we modified Dr. Moore’s syllabus to encourage further participation. Providing variety in terms of material modality was central to the changes we made. Whether it be a YouTube video, a poem, essay, or novel, the goal was to garner as much involvement as possible within the firm. With a running chat room and weekly group discussions among participants, the challenge was rolled out and generated dialogue as a function of experience, not discourse.

Facilitating the Challenge

Following a successful firm-wide rollout of the challenge and having the full support of Clark Hill’s executive board, I was asked to facilitate the challenge among the summer associate class. The group immediately took to the challenge as I received replies to my kick-off email bearing sincere excitement in the undertaking. That positive response was followed by a group meeting over Zoom, where the associates shared their thoughts about the prior week’s materials and how those resources challenged their standing perspective. Interestingly, while our syllabus included some resources that were more than 20 years old, the associates often incorporated recent events, like the Washington Football Team name change, into the discussion.

As time went on and the associates made their way through the materials, I was no longer facilitating the conversation. The associates respected one another, admittedly learned from one another, but most importantly, remained receptive in acknowledging the severe racial dynamic and seeking opportunities to educate themselves. Several of the associates expressed their gratitude that the firm offered this opportunity to engage actively and hailed it as the highlight of our summer program. I felt grateful to have the chance to work with the associates and to see how easily they embraced and welcomed the discussion of race and social justice. I could sense a “call to action” among my peers to change the way things are in the workplace and actively demand equity.

Educating Ourselves

This challenge and educational initiatives like it mark a fundamental necessity in grappling with race. However, I must be clear that my initial engagement and writing of this piece come from a place of privilege—a place I have taken for granted for much of my life as a white man, a place not shared by my colleagues and friends of color. It’s not enough merely to acknowledge racial bias or inequities. We must all engage it and educate ourselves in detecting it. The experience and discussions with the associates through the 21-Day Challenge represent action toward this goal and meeting our respective mandate in ensuring equity. 

Join the ABA Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council and participate in the ABA-Wide 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to assist each of us to become more aware, compassionate, constructive, engaged people in the quest for racial equity. It transcends our roles as lawyers. Non-lawyers are also welcome to participate.

Visit the central clearinghouse of ABA-related information and resources for attorneys, the legal profession, and the public on a wealth of issues addressing bias, racism, and prejudice in the justice system and society.