Pepperdine Caruso Law Hosts Inaugural Black Women and the Law Summit
On November 6, 2020, Caruso Law hosted the inaugural Black Women and the Law Summit: Invisibly Visible, Black Women in the Law Matter. Programming centered on legal and systemic barriers to Black women's advancement, offering strategies to dismantle those barriers. The event drew an audience of over three hundred attendees on Zoom, and more than 900 viewers via the livestream on Facebook. Viewers joined from 28 university campuses and 13 different states, as well as international locations including Uganda.
The summit was led by Judge Tiffany M. Williams (ret.), associate director of Advocacy, Empowerment and Faith, and Chalak Richards, assistant dean of Student Life, Diversity and Belonging. Their planning committee included other faculty members, prominent alumni, administrators, and student representatives from Southern California law schools. "It was important to me to host this conversation in the Pepperdine community for the rest of the nation, given our Christian mission and our imperative to combat racial injustice," said Williams. "At this pivotal time in our nation's history, calling attention to the need for development of Black women's leadership is vital. As we empower Black women's advancement, we empower all women's advancement."
Panel discussions traced the evolution of Black women and their activism and leadership roles in the law. The first panel, Inspiring and Celebrating Black Women's Leadership and Advancement, featured Paulette Brown, the first Black woman to serve as president of the American Bar Association, and Judge Ann Claire Williams, a retired judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Each woman shared her story of how she reached a position of influence. "When we have been presented these opportunities [to lead] we have to make sure that we present opportunities to others as well," said Brown of her tenure as head of the ABA. "I set about to change as many things as I could, to make systemic policy changes." Ann Claire Williams shared the guiding principles she learned from her own mentors in hopes of inspiring the event's attendees in turn. "I give thanks to the Black women federal judges...who personally affected my life," she said. "They taught me five things: to dream big, to work hard, not give up, stand up and give back." The panel was moderated by Zna Portlock Houston ('84, JD '87), adjunct professor and a member of the Pepperdine Caruso Law Board of Advisors.
The summit's focus shifted to the present with a panel titled The State of Black Women and the Law moderated by Capri Maddox (JD '01), executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Civil and Human Rights. Esteemed panelists discussed the challenges and placement of black women in the justice system, their lack of representation on the judicial bench, the challenge of enacting progressive policies, discrimination faced by Black women and girls in schools, and the history of Black women's voting rights and their current voting trends.
- Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
- Rachael Splaine Rollins, district attorney, Suffolk County, MA
- Roslyn M. Satchel, Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Communication, Pepperdine University
- Hon. Karen L. Stevenson, magistrate judge of the US District Court for the Central District of California
Three Caruso Law student leaders, Jaimie Harraka, Anita Marks, and Alexandra Ramos, moderated a two-part conversation titled Empowering Black Women Law Students. First, current law students from Caruso Law and University of California, Los Angeles addressed challenges they faced transitioning to law school, in the law school community, and their continuing needs for support from peers and law school institutions. They told stories about financial obstacles, inequities in the application process, imposter syndrome, creating a community, and the importance of mentorship. In the second part of the session, two law professors and a practicing attorney answered questions about such topics as allyship, improving access to law school for Black women, inclusive classrooms, building resilience, and helping Black women law students find their authentic voices.
- Equiana Brown chair, Moot Court Board and treasurer, Black Law Students Association, Pepperdine Caruso Law
- Leslie Culver, clinical professor, University of Utah College of Law
- Monique Hampton vice president, Black Law Students Association, Pepperdine Caruso Law
- Mariam Hinds, criminal defense attorney, The Bronx Defenders
- Kristen Holmquist, lecturer in residence and director, Experiential Education, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
- Tyra Jenkins, student, Pepperdine Caruso Law
- Milan Smith, president, Black Law Students Association, University of California, Los Angeles School of Law
During a break between panels, a video was shown depicting the discrimination that Black women have faced in the workplace regarding their hair, and the empowerment that resulted from the 2019 passage of the CROWN Act, barring discrimination based on hair styles.
The final panel of the day, Advancing Black Women in the Legal Profession, featured a presentation of the State Bar of California's 2020 Annual Diversity Report by its authors, Lisa Chavez, director of Research and Accountability, and Elizabeth Hom, program supervisor of the Office of Access and Inclusion. In response to the report's findings of low percentages of Black women in legal careers, a panel of attorneys shared their experiences and ideas about advancing representation in the legal field. The panelists were Carmen J. Cole (JD '01), partner at Squire Patton Boggs and a member of the Caruso Law Board of Advisors, Nicole Hancock Husband, vice president of human resources at Warner Bros Television, and Terrence Williams (JD '11, MDR '11), attorney at My Block, Inc.
Houston gave closing remarks that urged participants to continue the spirit of the event beyond its time frame. "We invite you to join our call to action by first looking inward and being reflective about the ways in which your words or actions assist or hinder Black women's success," she said. "Second, we invite you to support Black women's leadership by mentoring or sponsoring Black women [who] work in your organization...recommending Black women for legal work or for consideration for judgeships or candidacy for elected and appointed office. Next we invite you to educate yourself by reading the scholarly and literary works of Black women. Finally, we invite you to join our call to action [by] investing in the future of Black women lawyers that we're developing at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law."
The event ended with a presentation highlighting Black women leaders, beginning with Charlotte Ray, the first Black woman lawyer in the United States and featuring prominent judges, civil rights attorneys, and present-day leaders. An informal networking breakout titled Black Women in the Law Rock followed. "I wish I'd had something like this when I was in law school," said Leslie Culver. "This would have been so helpful for my mental health."
To learn more about this work and other empowerment activities at Pepperdine Caruso Law, please contact Judge Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.