Tuesday, September 3, 2013

President's Message: Time Marches On, And So Do We

By Susan Johnson-Velez

The year was 2004. I had agreed to serve as editor of the Lawyer and was facing the task of writing an article for each issue of the magazine. Fast-forward nine years, and as I prepare to share my thoughts and musings with you for this Bar year, I began reflecting on this universal truth: With every season’s passage and with every personal growth, our lives and the people in them change, but somehow also remain the same.

I can say this with such confidence merely by looking back at my first article in 2004. It featured an anecdote about two “queens of melodrama”: my then 10-year-old daughter, Cat, and our then 10-month-old Weimaraner puppy, Mia. Although it seems like only yesterday that I was describing (and frequently witnessing) the tendency of both toward melodrama, they, like just about everyone and everything around me, have changed.

That 10-year-old girl joins me in marveling at the fact that she is now almost 20 and a University of Florida sophomore. And that Weimaraner puppy is now almost 10 years old, and her once-seemingly boundless energy is beginning to show signs that it in fact does have limits.

But even as we watch the world change around us, there are so many issues that remain and require our collective attention. Issues such as judicial independence and diversity/inclusion are two examples. The fact that these issues are still at the forefront is proof that they will not be resolved in a single Bar year. However, we must continue to highlight them in the hope that doing so will move us that much closer to the finish line.

To that end, through various programs during the coming year, we will promote “Benchmarks: Raising the Bar on Civics Education.” This initiative of The Florida Bar and its Constitutional Judiciary Committee is designed to give attorneys activities that they can use to teach the fundamentals of government and the courts to adult civic and community groups. Benchmarks aims to inform adults through engaging activities about judicial review; the Bill of Rights and reviewing laws to see whether they are constitutional; facts and knowledge about U.S. government and the courts; and judicial labeling. The program has several activities that attorneys can use when they speak to community groups. Each activity has an overview to outline how the activity should be presented and supporting materials, such as PowerPoints and handouts. A detailed presentation on the Benchmarks program is being planned as part of the Bench Bar Conference in November. I hope you will attend that session and then accept the invitation to participate in this important public education effort.

I also hope to refocus the Bar’s diversity efforts in the upcoming year. Although I have always found the Hillsborough County Bar Association to be a welcoming place, I know that for a variety of reasons that experience is not shared by all. We have long focused on the diversity issue, but it may be time for a shift in focus to inclusion. As diversity consultant Verna Myers noted in her recent book “Moving Diversity Forward”: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” I hope to create an environment that encourages much more dancing.

I can already tell that it’s going to be a busy year, and I am excited that it is, at long last, underway. Our calendars will soon be filled with the lunches, CLEs, fun runs, and other events and traditions that mark our typical Bar year. As the world changes around us, those things will stay the same. And I fully expect that the enduring performances of Cat and Mia, my queens of melodrama, will also remain happily and comfortingly static.