Minorities in the Profession Section

Black History is American History

By NJSBA Staff posted 02-22-2021 15:46

A Message from New Jersey State Bar Association President Kimberly A. Yonta, Esq.

As the New Jersey State Bar Association celebrates Black History Month throughout February, we also commit to finding more ways to amplify and promote our Black colleagues throughout the year.

This is part of our ongoing effort to examine anti-Black bias and search for ways to combat persistent systemic racism in our society and make lasting changes in our profession.

Daryl Williams, chair of the Minorities in the Profession Section (MIPS) shared wise words about BHM:

“It’s all year long, but we celebrate it in February, so we are going to celebrate it to its fullest. Hopefully it will inspire others to learn the history and to cherish it all year long. This is American history.”

The Minorities in the Profession Section is marking a historical milestone of its own this year. The group started as a committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association in 1981 – 40 years ago. Long before conversations about diversity and inclusion were taking place in the way they do today, they were fighting the fight for equity in our profession. Leaders of the time remember that integral to MIPS formation was the work of the affinity bar associations – including the Garden State Bar Association, the Association of Black Women Lawyers, the Hispanic Bar Association and the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association.

Margaret Tarver, a South Jersey general practice attorney who was very active in the group in its early years, said the goal “was to increase minority participation in the state bar, and open up opportunities for minority attorneys…It’s made a big difference, I’m sure,” she said. “That’s our legacy, we at least started on diversity and inclusion before it became a more prevalent discussion as it is now.”

Looking back at the directories of the time, you will see a number of familiar names in the group’s leadership: people who have gone on to notable careers in New Jersey, like Judge Charles Dortch, who now is the presiding judge in the Family Division in Camden County.

Judge Dortch remembered in the early days of MIPS’s development a program honoring Judge Joseph Rodriguez of the U.S District Court. Today the state bar’s networking and judicial recognition program is an annual event. MIPS also advocated and was successful in the NJSBA’s development of at-large trustee seats on the Board of Trustees, one of which Judge Dortch held prior to his appointment to the bench.

“The focus of MIPS formation, advocacy and engagement, which was supported by many nonminority attorneys and bar trustees, was that diversity and inclusion was an essential and necessary component to the bar association. MIPS has an important place in the history of the New Jersey State Bar Association in terms of diversity and in terms of MIPS’s historical and ongoing contribution to the critical work of the state bar. As a bar and as a state we are all better and richer for it.”

I could not agree more. And that’s why I urge all of you to take part in the MIPS Black History Month celebration – which the Section has put on since 1993. This year’s program is scheduled for this week, on Thursday Feb. 25.

At the online event, the finalists and runners-up of a high school essay contest will compete in a trivia contest for cash prizes. Judge Avion Benjamin will give a keynote address. Festivities also include a performance by the Trenton High School orchestra and an art show featuring the work of a Black New Jersey artist, Anthony Gartmond, a retired Essex County prosecutor, in a virtual art show on the NJSBA website. The gallery is now open.

Even though the public health crisis means we cannot come together, as Daryl said, the aim of the event remains the same: to create “a feeling of community, of togetherness and an appreciation of our history.”

The MIPS Black History Month event is sponsored by:
Black Prosecutors Association of New Jersey
Brach Eichler
Cooper Levenson, Attorneys at Law
Duane Morris, LLP
Garden State Bar Association
Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla
Hill Wallack LLP
Investors Bank
Law Offices of Doris Lin, Esq.
Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, P.C.
McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP
Miller Leiby & Associates P.C.
New Jersey State Bar Foundation
Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C.
Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland, Perretti, LLP
Saiber LLC

Co-sponsors of the event are:
Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey
Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey
Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey
LGBT Rights Section of the NJSBA
New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association
South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey