The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 13, 2020 1:00 am

Power to change the world within you

Wendy W. Davis

When one person is left out by the world, the priceless talents and passions of an individual are wasted. A little part of what makes the world work – a tapestry of ideas and ideals – is lost.

So when the world is deprived of those gifts from a large swatch of a gender, race or other group, how are we to believe the world is working at all?

Years ago, Maya Angelou wrote, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” In 2020, it is past time to listen and to teach that a society that only depicts half the picture can never be a tapestry. A society like that is a mere fragment of what America can really be.

The events unfolding around us in our country and our community make that clear. Many of the voices coming from society declare with certainty that too many of our fellow citizens feel disenfranchised and locked out. The vexing question for women, people of color and the disadvantaged is, “What do we do about it?”

In my own backyard, in Allen Superior Court, we see an example of what we are challenged with. From January 2019 until a few weeks ago, for the first time ever, Superior Court included a majority of female judges. We lost that majority in June 2020 with the retirement of Allen County's history-making, first-ever female Judge, Nancy Eshcoff Boyer. By January 2021, the number of female judges in Superior Court will drop from a majority (five) to just three.

In the legal field, the truth is that supply cannot currently keep up with demand for diversity. The legal field, like so many others, lacks seriously in diversity.

In 2019, the National Association for Law Placement reported that 35% of attorneys were women and 16% were minorities. In an effort to advance the cause of diversity in the legal profession, the Allen County Bar Association, of which I am currently president, has launched a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

This is important work because every step to build a more inclusive legal community – which reflects the community at large – demonstrates our commitment to justice for all. When people find themselves in a courtroom or in a legal dispute, the legal practitioners standing up for them should better reflect Indiana's incredible ethnic, racial and multicultural diversity. Today, especially in Allen County, they simply do not.

We have been working hard in the Allen County courts to change that. In addition to our new Bar Association task force, I serve on the statutory Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity Commission. Since 2015, the Indiana Supreme Court, through the commission, has provided Allen County with the chance to hire a summer law clerk/intern who is a minority or low-income, educationally disadvantaged law student. Five of those six interns have returned to work in the Allen County legal community.

But the reality is that no task force, no white paper, no oped column such as this one can alone change the degree to which women and minorities are represented in the mechanisms of society.

The best way to get a list of ideas is to form a committee. The best way to make a change is to do it yourself.

In my profession, the best way to fix the problem of underrepresentation is for women and people of color who believe in change to step up and get involved: go to law school (there are scholarships available), work for a judge or pursue a career elsewhere in the judicial system.

Better yet, volunteer at one of our local youth mentoring programs such as The Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, City Life or Youth for Christ, to mention a few.

You can mentor and encourage our youth that they can make a difference in our legal community and community overall. We can empower our youth to flood the field of ideas with the perspectives and experiences that are not being heard today. If some feel timid or inadequate, let's work to pull them up.

Today's judicial system is not just for lawyers and judges. It is also a field for people with backgrounds in everything from data entry to finance to technology. The same is true for many fields affecting the world around us.

You do not have to run for president or governor to make a mark on the life of our community. Women hold just 22% of seats in Indiana's House. In the Indiana Senate, that number is just 14%. People of color, although better than they have been in years, are represented even less.

However you choose to get involved, be it the Statehouse, city hall, school board, student government, your neighborhood association or as a mentor, your voice is priceless and makes our world better and more inclusive.

We need you, now more than ever. That vital, critical mass of people who want to see and hear themselves in the voice of the community starts with you.

Pick your place, step up and make a difference. Change our story.

Wendy W. Davis is a judge on the Allen Superior Court.

Sign up for our Opinion newsletter

Sent daily