Setting a Course for the Future

By Casey Johnson

This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 (Vol. 47, No. 6) issue of “Forum.”

It has been a wild two years. The unprecedented legislative and political successes here in California have been tempered by events across the rest of the country, and especially the 2016 presidential election. From the Muslim ban and the banning of able-bodied and well-trained transgender soldiers to stripping birth control coverage in health care plans, the current administration has elevated dog whistle politics to a new and truly frightening level, emboldening racists, homophobes, anti-Semites and misogynists. Despite the pall cast over the entire nation under the 45th President, the Consumer Attorneys of California Diversity Committee is stronger and more active than ever.

During the past several years the CAOC Diversity Committee has ramped up its involvement with the Minority Bar Coalition (MBC) of Northern California, co-hosting and participating in numerous activities throughout the year, including numerous networking mixers and barbecues, as well as the annual Unity Award reception.

The Diversity Committee has also hosted diversity mixer events in San Diego, Orange County and San Francisco (twice!) creating the perfect opportunity for members from diversity communities and their allies to mix and mingle with lawyers across the spectrum of practice areas. This year the Diversity Committee also co-hosted a Diversity Brunch in Long Beach at the beautiful Hotel Maya on the water – creating an amazing afternoon allowing folks from Orange County, Long Beach, and Los Angeles to discuss their practices and make new connections.

Politically, the Diversity Committee answered the call and co-hosted the 2017 CAOC PAC Night events in both Southern California and Northern California, helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect and re-elect pro-Consumer legislators throughout California.

This year also saw the graduation of the third class of the CAOC Leadership Academy, which included an intensive two-weekend long program that empowered participants with training in communications, grassroots organizing, lobbying and fundraising – creating a new battalion of soldiers for justice. Improving upon past academies, this year the Diversity Committee reformulated the program to ensure participants were provided with relevant training from experts in their fields to arm participants with the most effective information to make them the best possible leaders going forward.

The last two years have also seen the establishment and implementation of a formalized committee structure, including the adopting of bylaws and creating a leadership structure that will ensure a smooth transition to new leadership each year and continue the strength and success of the Diversity Committee.

The successes of the past two years are merely the continuation of the vision of the Diversity Committee founding co-chairs, Micha Star Liberty and Vincent Howard, the dedication of past chair Deborah Chang, and the commitment of Diversity Committee members throughout California who continue to recognize the importance of diversity. Thank you to each of you for your passion and commitment.

This year’s committee chairs and cochairs all went above and beyond to help the Diversity Committee enjoy such a successful year, and deserve exceptional praise: Kimberly Wong, this year’s political chair (who will serve as Chair next year); Noemi Esparza and Abbas Kazerounian – this year’s legislative chairs; KristyArevalo – this year’s education chair; and Cristina Garcia and Jason Argos – our membership and outreach chairs for Northern and Southern California, respectively. Thank you to each of you for your time and enthusiasm.

Our outstanding presence is also due in large part to the extraordinary financial support of this year’s Friends of Diversity Sponsors, whose contributions ensured full-funding of the Diversity Committee’s programming throughout the year. A heartfelt thank you to Aitken*Aitken*Cohn, Bentley & More, Howard Law, Lipinsky Employment Lawyers, the Law Offices of Lisa L. Maki, Rizio Law, Stebner & Associates and the Law Office of Valerie T. McGinty.

Last, but certainly not least, the incredible staff at CAOC is second to none. Each and every activity of the Diversity Committee was advanced in one way or another by three phenomenal women whose neverending energy held us up to make as big an impact as possible at every turn. Although largely working behind the scenes, Laurie Klimchock, Darlene Golladay and Valerie Shope continue to be the real driving force behind the Diversity Committee’s growth and continued success.

There is no time for complacency in a country in which its leader criticizes peacefully taking a knee, while defending “very fine people” chanting “the Jews will not replace us.” This dichotomy only reinforces the importance of CAOC’s Diversity Committee and its continued goals of educating and empowering all CAOC members. Diversity benefits all CAOC members, and by extension all California consumers in one of the most diverse states in this country. It has been an honor to serve as the chair of such an inspiring and dedicated group of individuals. Thank you for the opportunity and I look forward to being an active Diversity Committee member for many years to come. I hope you’ll join me.