Some folks think of southeast Wisconsin as ending at the southern border of Milwaukee County, but this thinking omits two great dynamic cities – Racine and Kenosha. When I came to the State Bar of Wisconsin, I asked, when did we last hold an event in one of these communities? No one could remember. When I became executive director, I was determined to change this.
There are vibrant legal communities in both Racine and Kenosha counties, with more than 500 attorneys living in and serving the areas. That is why this past September, the State Bar, with the encouragement of Joe Cardamone, who represents Kenosha and Walworth counties on the Board of Governors, held a series of events in Kenosha.
Plans had been in the works for a couple of years, but when shootings and protests occurred in the summer of 2020, we paused to give further thought to the purpose and meaning of our efforts.
The Board of Governors saw our presence in Kenosha as an opportunity for the State Bar to highlight our commitment and efforts in combating racial injustice while promoting equal justice, diversity, and inclusion.
To kick off three days in the community, the State Bar, along with the Kenosha County Bar Association, Legal Action of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers, and the Urban League of Racine & Kenosha, organized a free expungement legal clinic for Kenosha-area residents. State Bar leaders from across the state and local attorneys spent an afternoon helping 61 clients who have a conviction or arrest record to learn more about their legal rights and their eligibility to remove or seal that information. We also provided information about the availability of pardons.
More than 100 State Bar leaders and staff then participated in our annual joint leadership orientation, followed by a meeting of the Board of Governors. It was our first in-person board meeting in 580 days.
In addition, we organized a meeting between local attorneys, State Bar leaders, area legislators, and the Kenosha mayor to discuss criminal and racial justice reform. A free law practice management program, titled Building a Diverse Law Office Team, was held for State Bar leaders and area attorneys. We also held a reception honoring Kenosha’s legal community.
We were intentional and deliberate in where and how we spent our resources, focusing on local, minority- and women-owned businesses and nonprofit organizations.
I am proud of my home town, Kenosha. It is where I was raised, and it has shaped who I am and the values I hold. That is not to say that Kenosha does not have its struggles, and they are significant. Like so many other communities across this country, there are deep-seated issues of racial and economic injustice that have not yet been fully addressed. There is so much to be done.
However, I hope our presence added just a little bit of encouragement for a community struggling to be more just and inclusive.
I know the inherent goodness in the town where I was raised, and I remain optimistic for its future.
» Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 9 (November 2021).