By Ona Alston Dosunmu
I, like most people, welcome 2021 and couldn’t wait to watch 2020 recede into the rearview mirror. But for the California Lawyers Association, 2020 was not all bad. Yes, we endured a horrible pandemic—a plague that is ongoing but the end of which is in sight. And yes, once again America wrestled with the ugly truth of its systemic racism. And for many of us, sheltering in place took a toll on our well-being. But thanks to the incredible efforts of volunteer leaders throughout our bar association, CLA met these challenges in ways that are nothing short of amazing for an organization that launched a mere three years ago.
Shortly after shelter-in-place orders spread across the nation, I had conversations with colleagues about what we could do and what we should do. Some of the answers were obvious, like providing continuing legal education to our members to help navigate the CARES Act and to understand changes in laws, regulations and court rules. Another effort born of the pandemic was less obvious but may have been equally or more important. A conversation with Associate Executive Director for External Relations and Initiatives Ellen Miller led to a discussion about what services or information we could provide directly to the public. Out of that brainstorming session emerged the idea of producing short videos explaining pandemic-related legal issues to the public. Ellen Miller and Initiatives Coordinator Lauren Oakley took charge of organizing and producing the videos. Volunteers from our Sections generously donated their substantive expertise, and in some cases, their Spanish language fluency, to the project. Ultimately, the video series won the National Conference of Bar Foundations LexisNexis Partnership for Success Award.
While there are vaccines available to inoculate people against the coronavirus, there is no injection to cure the United States of the virulent racism that infects our society and leads to the deaths of Black and Brown people by law enforcement officers who too often act as judge, jury and executioner. And police shootings are just the most graphic manifestations of racism. Solving this social ill will entail hard work, creativity, cultural change, education, and, yes, of course, legal reform. Once again, CLA volunteers have stepped forward to do the work. A dynamic group led by our colleagues in the Criminal Law and Litigation Sections are sharing resources and personal stories, organizing programs, tracking and commenting on legislation and generally digging in to do the hard work of ending racial injustice. In other words, they are standing up for justice, which is the quintessential calling of our noble profession.
And while 2020 certainly took its toll on everyone in ways both big and small, again, CLA volunteers filled the void. CLA’s Health and Wellness Committee and our Member Engagement Committee supported members through programming, highly successful virtual coffee breaks. And starting this month the Health and Wellness Committee launches what I hope will become an annual tradition —a January wellness challenge.
So, while we greet 2021 with optimism and the reasonable belief that it will be better—hopefully much better—than 2020, I want to thank the awesome, incredible, energetic and generous volunteers in our Sections and Committees. Without you, 2020 would have been a heck of a lot worse. Here’s to an even better New Year!