Ten years ago, 12th Judicial Chief Circuit Court Judge Charles Williams surveyed the local legal community. The area’s major law firms had few female and minority attorneys, he found, and almost none in leadership roles. “The heads of the older firms were all older white males,” says Williams. Even today, Williams estimates that there are fewer than 12 practicing African-American attorneys in the area.
Williams and his longtime friend, attorney Charlie Ann Syprett, decided to help launch the Sarasota County Bar Association Diversity Committee. Their efforts earned them one of our 2013 Unity Awards. The committee offered $5,000 scholarships to bring law students to intern at local firms, with the hope that after graduation they might be inspired to return to practice here. Between 30 and 40 young attorneys have gone through the program, and at least six have made Sarasota their home.
The committee also partners with Booker High School’s Law Academy, mentoring students throughout their education with the goal of convincing them to return home to practice law.
On April 30, Williams and Syprett are producing for the second time “We Are Sarasota,” a show created in partnership with Booker’s Visual and Performing Arts program and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe to dramatize civil rights milestones. Williams has written a curriculum for county schools to supplement the performance, and the pair has arranged for 600 high school students to attend.
“The demographics of our nation are rapidly changing,” says Syprett, who chairs the committee. “Law firms need to know how to communicate and relate with a client base that may not look like them.”
Come celebrate present and past Unity Award winners with us at a luncheon on February 8 at Michael’s On East. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.