I had the honor of providing a keynote address at the Women Leading in Law (“WOLELA”) Annual Conference 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Conference agenda was “Finding New Ways for Women to Lead in the Law.”
The Conference was held to highlight inequities in the number of female attorneys in the profession. In South Africa, women who want to purse the law as a career face challenges that can be hidden barriers. According to WOLELA founder, Amanda Lamond, “the barriers we’re talking about today are often invisible‚ putting women at a disadvantage as a result of cultural assumptions and organizational structures‚ as well as patterns of interaction that inadvertently benefit men.”
I shared about my new children’s book, “Justice Makes a Difference” that features Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire, a character to which I referred in my address that women and girls around the world can emulate.
Attorneys have an opportunity to make a difference every day. Our training provides us with the tools to serve and take the lead as problem solvers and agents of change. I issued a call to leadership, challenging lawyers to use their abilities to generate change in everything they do.
A lawyer as a leader is one who uses their legal training as a tool to create access to justice, eradicate inequities and promote equal justice under the law. This is my vision of leadership for social justice where we as lawyers focus our time, talent and resources on leading social change. This is my dream of becoming Miss Freedom Fighter Esquire – a wonder woman with a law degree and an afro.
Throughout my career, I have been determined to use my law degree in the struggle for justice in the tradition of women throughout history who have been in the forefront of movements for social change. The wonder women of every age have made a difference, from Marian Wright Edelman who took a stand for children with the founding of the Children’s Defense Fund, to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to seek the nomination for president of the U.S.
These wonder women are the foremothers on whose shoulders we stand upon today and to challenge us to build our own leadership legacy. Some may wonder why women leaders should become a superhero. The answer for me is simple – our local communities and the global community are waiting. I believe we, as women leaders, play a key role impacting what Dr. King described as the arc of the moral universe. This is a call to leadership – a moral imperative to make a difference. Former President Barack Obama challenged each of us to play an active role in leading social change when he stated: ‘the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it does not bend on its own.’ We as wonder women are those benders.
Women can make a profound impact in the world if they’re willing to serve and lead. Leadership provides women with a new lens to ask themselves, ‘What’s in my hands to make a difference?’ It’s the type of transformative power needed to make justice a lived reality.
I closed my address with the lyrics of the Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire’s theme song called ‘Ella’s Song,’ which is dedicated to the leadership legacy of Ella Baker. The chorus is simple, ‘We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.’
Grab your cape and let’s soar to new heights fellow wonder women!