Ruthe Catolico Ashley was in a San Francisco Department store this summer when she heard a voice calling, “Mrs. Ashley, Mrs. Ashley.”
“I turned around and there’s a beautiful young black woman walking toward me. I said, ‘Myra is that you?’” That’s when Ashley learned that Myra, her former student at the Law Academy at DeAnza High School, had graduated from college and was headed for law school.
“She said, ‘I never would have thought about this without you,’” Ashley recalled. “It’s nice when lives you never thought you touched are now starting to show up.”
Ashley has touched many lives through her many years of volunteer work to promote diversity in the legal system and to increase civic engagement.
Ashley’s work to create the first six law academies in California is one reason the California Lawyers Association bestowed on her its first “Civics Engagement Award.” Read more about the awards that were given last month at the CLA Annual Meeting.
“It’s really an honor to receive it,” Ashley said. “Civics is hugely important, especially in these last few years. Many of us believe the lack of civics education has led to a lack of civics engagement, which has led to where we are in our democracy.”
Some law academy students end up entering the legal profession, and all of them are exposed to how the justice system fits into our democracy and political system, Ashley said.
Ashley said she was surprised and thrilled to receive the award from Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. The two women met at the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office when Ashley was a law school intern and Cantil-Sakauye was a prosecutor.
Ashley currently chairs the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Public Education, which this year is celebrating 100 years of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. “The theme is your vote, your voice. Our democracy.”
“All of us collectively can impact lives in ways we don’t recognize,” Ashley said. “We each live our lives as authentic. We hope our influence goes out like ripples in a pond.”