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February 04, 2023

4 diversity trailblazers you should know

Four trailblazers in diversity were honored by the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession at its Spirit of Excellence Award luncheon on Feb. 4 during the ABA 2023 Midyear Meeting in New Orleans.

The award celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. It is presented to lawyers who excel in their professional settings, personify excellence on the national, state or local level, and have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in law.

2023 Spirit of Excellence awardees (left to right) Roger Gregory, Goodwin H. Liu, Diandra Benally and Reginald M. Turner

2023 Spirit of Excellence awardees (left to right) Roger Gregory, Goodwin H. Liu, Diandra Benally and Reginald M. Turner

The 2023 honorees are:

Diandra Benally, the first female general counsel of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. A former special assistant U.S. attorney and former staff attorney with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, Benally has led the National Native American Bar Association Foundation, the Native American Bar Association of Arizona and the Navajo Nation Bar Association. She helped start a mentoring program and mentors students herself to increase the number of Native American students in colleges and law schools.

In her acceptance speech, Benally said she was grateful for “so many people who have been a source of light throughout my life.” She paid homage to her parents who lit the pathway to her career in law. “I hope to continue to embody the spirit of this award as a source of light for young attorneys and young native children throughout Indian country.”

Roger Gregory, chief judge on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The first African American to serve on the court, Gregory was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 2000 and President George W. Bush in 2001. He has worked with the ABA Appellate Judges Education Institute on Diversity and Inclusion and the National Judicial College to help diversify the judiciary and the legal profession. Before joining the appeals court, Gregory worked for law firms in Richmond, Virginia. “This is a profession I have treasured and toiled in for 45 years,” he said in accepting the award. “It has been a long and winding journey but throughout I have never lost view of God’s grace.”

Gregory talked about the worth of diversity and the work of diversity. “They go together. They must go together,” he said. “We will get to this place of ethnic diversity and inclusion when it becomes a part of our national identity, our DNA. When it becomes a choice and not a chore.”

Goodwin H. Liu, associate justice on the California Supreme Court. He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 and retained by voters in 2014. Before joining the court, Liu was a professor and associate dean at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Liu grew up in Sacramento and helped launch the AmeriCorps national service program. He teaches constitutional law as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. 

“Everywhere you look today diversity is the watchword — in business, higher education, government and beyond. But nowhere is diversity more urgent than in the legal profession. … Diversity is part of America’s soul, its origin story and its evolution.”

Reginald M. Turner, immediate past president of the ABA, serving from 2021 to 2022. Turner, a lawyer with Clark Hill in Detroit, is an accomplished litigator, government affairs advocate and strategic adviser. He has served as president of the National Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan. Turner is also former chair of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, where he developed policies and procedures that enhanced the commission and its work.

In his acceptance speech, Turner recounted how he became involved in diversity efforts as a child when his family joined a program to bring together people of different backgrounds to engage in racial healing after the 1967 Detroit riots. “I have learned that we can improve the quality of life in our nation,” Turner said, touting the influence of lawyers and the ABA. “The pandemic created a number of barriers for us, but it’s also created opportunities for the ABA to shine. The ABA has been very instrumental in helping our nation get through very difficult times.”