Canadian Association of Black Lawyers Gala

  • October 18, 2019

Thank you for that introduction. Good evening everyone. I’m honoured to be here tonight to bring you greetings on behalf of the 36,000 members of the Canadian Bar Association.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about communities – what they’re made of, where you find them, and how they thrive.

We’re all part of any number of communities – based on the adjectives that describe who we are, where we come from, the work we do and the things we’re passionate about.

But, like adjectives, the groups themselves have no inherent motion. The phrase “black lawyers” is just an adjective plus a noun until it’s galvanized by the act of associating. Then it becomes a movement, with common aspirations … with goals and a plan to reach them.

The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers is a voice to be heard not just because it brings black lawyers together in community, but because those lawyers then work together reaching milestones that would be harder to achieve as individuals. Climbing, as the theme of this dinner says, and lifting and sometimes carrying those behind us. Many of us started off as BALSAC members, I was a BALSAC president back in the day at the University of Ottawa. Many of you were members or served on the executive of one of the chapters across Canada and now are members of CABL.

Today, I’m the first black president in the 123-year history of the Canadian Bar Association. A true honour and thanks to those black lawyers who have endured so much to allow me this amazing opportunity.

I’m very aware of the expectations that accompany the person who is the first anything, the increased scrutiny of my actions and words and the added responsibility of not just trying to be, but being the best.

But the challenges I may face in my presidency will make next year easier for CABL’s former treasurer, Charlene Theodore, when she becomes the first black president of the Ontario Bar Association. And we’ll both blaze a path for the many talented black lawyers following after us. I know both of us have been sheltered and bolstered by the community we have found here with the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

Canada in general, and the legal profession in particular, have made some major strides toward racial equality.

Talk about diversity and inclusion is ubiquitous – and sometimes it seems all talk, no action. In the Canadian Bar Association we’re trying to walk the talk as well.  But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Belonging to a community gives us the strength that is found in numbers and a safe place to make mistakes. Community is essential to our individual success – it makes it hard for the sometimes-hostile world to ignore us.

It’s important that we use that strength to support those who are ready for leadership roles and to nurture those who aspire to those roles … to lift them up so that they will be positioned to open the door when opportunity knocks. And to help make sure that opportunity comes within their reach in the first place.

Thank you for being one of my communities – not a virtual one – a real one. And thank you again for inviting me to speak to you tonight. Enjoy the rest of your evening.