SARASOTA, FL – The Sarasota County Bar Association’s Council for Diversity & Inclusion recently hosted leaders from the Florida Bar’s Pipeline Committee, which is tasked with encouraging and promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the profession and justice system. The purpose of the visit was to showcase local efforts to increase cultural diversity within the legal profession by working to close the gaps in educational and professional outcomes for different racial and ethnic groups. Of particular interest to the visitors was the renowned Booker High School Law Academy, which offers classroom lectures, one-on-one mentoring for every student, and a full year of educational events and opportunities for the young participants.
In the morning, SCBA Council leaders – including attorney Charlie Ann Syprett, who was recently appointed as Chair of the Florida Bar’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee – and leaders from diversity and inclusion committees from across the state met at Booker High School. They met Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley and Law Academy coordinator Ryan Kelley, toured Booker High along with more than a dozen students, and observed a presentation by Law Academy students in their Courtroom classroom, which included testimonials from participants about how the program has changed their lives. The group then convened for lunch at the Art Ovation Hotel to hear from Hon. Judge Charles E. Williams and Bill Woodson, Ph.D., Dean of Outreach and Chief Diversity Officer, New College of Florida.
A leading partner of the Booker High School Law Academy, the SCBA Council’s “Pipeline Project” is considered one of the best in the state. Since its beginnings in 2006, the SCBA Council has: provided over $130,000 in scholarships to deserving minority law school students; ensured more than 8,000 Sarasota high school students have been able to attend relevant community cultural events; member lawyers have performed over 1,500 volunteer hours lecturing in local high schools and participating in Council events; and creating and hosting quality educational events for the public and local students, including the highly-acclaimed “We Are Sarasota” events in 2012 and 2017. “We Are Sarasota” was written, produced and directed by Syprett and Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Williams, the Council’s founder and judicial advisor.
“As the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States continues to grow, it is increasingly important that cultural diversity grows in the legal profession,” Syprett said. “A robust education program ensures diversity in the legal profession and in the judiciary, and the resulting visible diversity will help to create confidence in the fairness of the legal system.”
Syprett noted that the state representatives were so impressed by what they saw during their visit that they voted to take the Booker High School Law Academy-SCBA partnership model across the state.
For more about the SCBA Council and its diversity efforts, visit sarasotabar.com/diversityhome.