A Message from the Maricopa Chapter President, Jebbie Whiteside
June 2, 2020
This month’s President’s message is hard to write. Policies and procedures seem to change faster than I can keep up with, and yet other world events make me feel like I’m frozen in time. As attorneys, we often joke that we get paid by the word, yet lately, I find myself speechless more often than not. President’s messages are supposed to be upbeat and inspiring. But times are difficult and uncertain in our world right now. Not only are we dealing with a global health pandemic and severe economic concerns, we are now also faced with the often unspoken subject of discrimination. Sometimes, it is hard to be inspiring.
Most of you know me as Jebbie. A smaller group of you know me by my legal name, Jabron (which according to the Social Security Administration is a name I share with a total of only 146 other babies born in the U.S. between 1880-2018). Yet, what even fewer people know, is that I am a lesbian who was raised by a single mom, in a multiracial family, in a community where approximately 75% of the city’s 100,000 people were white. Although our community was primarily white, I attended a Title I high school, where the majority of the students were from a disadvantaged social economic background and/or minority group. The odds of success seemed stacked against me at times. Yet, I became the first person in my family to go to and graduate from college (while helping raise my then toddler African American niece). Today, I remain the only person in my family that has accomplished a Graduate/Masters/Doctorate level degree. But I’m not here to write about my background, accomplishments or the struggles I have faced due to any of the various minority group classifications I’m a member of – honestly, my experiences pale in comparison to what so many others have endured and continue to endure.
So, why do I feel the need to disclose all this in a President’s message to bunch of lawyers? How does this tie into AWLA or the events occurring in today’s society? It’s simple - COVID and the recent protests in our society have made me examine what organizations I have joined in my life. More importantly, why are these organizations important? What message does membership in any given organization convey to others? What opportunities, empowerment, and support does the organization provide its membership?
I am where I am today due partly to my involvement in various activities and organizations that provided me with the opportunity to succeed in a world in which the ‘odds of success’ were stacked against me. AWLA is one of those organizations. AWLA’s mission statement is to promote and encourage the success of women lawyers throughout Arizona, to provide members with information and support, to foster connections among women lawyers, and to monitor and celebrate the successes of our members. This mission statement is based on a bigger premise - that no one should face discrimination based on their group classification. It is about finding acceptance for who we are as individuals and how we fit into a society that hasn’t always embraced our diversity. It is about encouraging and promoting each other within the legal community and in our society. AWLA shares these core values with many of our minority sister bar associations, including, but not limited to: the Arizona Black Bar, Los Abogados, the Arizona Asian American Bar Association, the Arizona LGBT Bar Association, the Arizona Jewish Lawyers Association, the Iranian American Bar Association, and the Native American Bar Association of Arizona. These organizations share a commitment to advance and promote diversity and inclusion in the Arizona legal community, to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard at the decision table and in the Board room. Membership in organizations focused on diversity and inclusion forms a bond of solidarity. Every member gets us a step closer to achieving equality for all.
Being part of AWLA gives me comfort knowing that, regardless of my gender, sexual orientation, race, or religious belief, I am part of something bigger. It lets me to know that others share my values and passions for equality and that I am not alone. It allows me to meet people from other walks of life who I can learn from, share ideas with, and build relationships with. Hearing the stories of others, helps me identify situations of discrimination that different groups face in our society. AWLA allows me to be part of the mechanism of change for inclusion and acceptance, and at times promote the voice of others. By being part of an organization, each of us as members immediately become leaders and speakers. It is our collective voices that conveys the message that diversity and equality is needed in the legal system. We are the voices of our community.
As Verna Myers, founder and president of Verna Myers Consulting Group and star of a TED Talk on overcoming bias, said, “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” Even as we stumble and fall in this time of uncertainty, being part of AWLA lets us dance. I hope all our members feel the same way and I look forward to seeing or meeting each of you at a future AWLA event and we can dance together as one. For a list of our events, please visit: www.AWLA-State.org.
In solidarity and equality,
AWLA Maricopa Chapter President