Racial Reconciliation: A Pathway Toward a More Inclusive Contra Costa Legal Community

Last June, the Contra Costa County Bar Association started a much-needed dialogue on racial inclusion in our legal community. We instituted our first ever Racial Reconciliation Forum.
panelists at the CCCBA Racial Reconciliation forumThe Forum grew out of a discussion a number of attorneys and judicial officers had during a 2018 diversity committee meeting. Diverse attorneys and judges alike shared stories about their experiences in our court system including being mistaken for criminal defendants and perceptions they were treated with less respect than the majority of their colleagues in the Contra Costa court system. Some expressed these experiences were not quite as marked in neighboring counties. The diversity committee felt compelled to take action because, in order to further our mission to increase diversity in our legal community, we must ensure members of diverse populations feel welcome, valued and respected.

I chaired a subcommittee consisting of several members committed to diversity and inclusion. Together, we organized a forum with stakeholders in the community who had been trailblazers in creating a diverse legal community.

attorneys and judges at the CCCBA Racial Reconciliation Forum in 2019
Vanessa Candelaria, Hon. Benjamin T. Reyes, II, Hon. Leonard Marquez and James Wu

The speakers included Judges Benjamin Reyes II and Anita Santos, Public Defender Robin Lipetzky and District Attorney Diana Becton, as well as two former Contra Costa County Bar Association presidents who are partners in local civil firms, Philip Andersen and Robin Pearson. Forum participants were candid about their struggles as well as their triumphs when it came to addressing diversity within our legal community. I moderated the discussion by asking the panelists questions about experiences they had so generously shared with me. Afterward, attendees were allowed to present written questions I then presented to panelists.

To close the evening, we had a mixer where attendees could have follow-up discussions with panelists of their choice and enjoy light snacks. If you missed the Forum, you can stream it online on the CCCBA YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/GDRaTQexr84.

This year, we are planning another enriching program to continue the discussion and work toward solutions. Our Forum hopes to bring together additional stakeholders in the Contra Costa legal community to have small group discussions with participants. The stakeholders will moderate the discussions and make sure all voices are heard. Attendees will not only receive MCLE credit for Elimination of Bias in the Legal Profession, but in a real way, we will be actively working together to eliminate bias in the Contra Costa County legal community. This year’s forum is scheduled for June 23, 2020 at 5:30 pm. Watch for your CCCBA “e-blasts” for further details.