The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. (CLC) hosted its 44th annual meeting in the Grand Ballroom of The Palmer House Hotel July 11. Legendary civil-rights icon Dr. Mary Frances Berry was the keynote speaker.
The meeting is held annually to celebrate the work of CLC and its partners, discuss the region's high priority civil-rights issues, and raise funds for the organization's evolving civil rights and community development agenda.
"It really is an organization that is fighting for people who otherwise really wouldn't be able to fight for themselves about issues that often don't get the spotlight," said CLC President Max A. Stein of Boodell & Domanskis, LLC. "So it's wonderful to see the hard work the Lawyers' Committee is doing for those people."
Delivering the executive report, CLC Executive Director Jay Readey focused on CLC's programs and their progress, particular legal fights the organization is involved in locally, such as school closings; school discipline; incarceration of prisoners and its impact on communities; the way communities are reshaping themselves; and potential opportunities lawyers can create in neighborhoods for disadvantaged and marginalized populations.
"It's an amazing community of people who are here today, so I'm thrilled to be talking to people," said Readey. "I get very excited about it and we're blessed to have such a s great crowd and a great event with a great speaker. We are pushing to build a community of peers who care about these issues and we really need to be pushing on all fronts."
This year's honorees included Hughes Socol Piers Resnick and Dym Ltd., which received the 2013 Public Interest Award; sole practitioner Charles Krugel, who received the Outstanding Volunteer Attorney of 2013 Award; and Fay Clayton, a founding partner of Robinson Curley and Clayton, P.C., who was presented with the Edwin A. Rothschild Award for Lifetime Achievement in Civil Rights. Dr. Mary Frances Berry served as the keynote speaker.
"I am tickled to get this honor," said Clayton. "I am so happy to get it from such a wonderful group; a group that has done such important things and having just heard Dr. Mary Frances Berry give such a moving speech, it is an honor to have any affiliation with the Lawyers Committee and I feel greatly honored that they picked me for the Lifetime Achievement Award. I said it feels a little scary to have had lifetime achievement, but people like Ed Rothschild, whom the award is named, certainly can continue to do civil rights long after my age, so I'm going to keep it up too."
In her keynote speech, Berry spoke about her four-plus decades of experience fighting for justice and civil rights. She shared various stories from her current position as the professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania teaching history and law back through her time as chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission with anecdotes about her interactions with presidents and others. She noted her appearance at the event was special, as she has other issues keeping her occupied.
"It feels great," said Berry. "I support the work because it's so important and it's more crucial now than it's ever been and its need for even more people to get involved in it. I came because it's the lawyers' committee. I think the lawyers' committee is such an important organization."
Being a voice for the nation's civil-rights, gender-equality and social-justice agendas, Berry said she just keeps going "like the Energizer bunny." According to Berry, the Voting Rights Actin relation to figuring out the formula for Section IV that will withstand the courts' high scrutinyhas high importance on her agenda. She added that getting more housing for low-income people suffering from shortage and discrimination is also a crucial thing to address. In terms of LGBT issues, she said the momentum is toward greater change and the prospects are great.
"Mary Frances Berry was chosen for the prominence of her work in the areas of social justice and her work in continuing to explain how social justice remains a very important part and something of our society that needs to be fixed," said Stein. "It's a wonderful thing to have her here today."