OAKLAND, CA - On Aug. 28: The Making a New Reality Foundation will launch PROJECT G.U.R.L.S. - a global initiative to engage girls of color in leadership development and utilizing their own voices to create change. The initiative begins with the inaugural G.U.R.L.S. Rock Summit in Oakland.
"It's a big deal. It is a game changer for girls of color and a journey toward a 2012 global leadership summit to be held in Washington, D.C.," said Raye Mitchell, founder of The Making a New Reality Foundation and recent recipient of a Jefferson Award for Public Service. "It will be the first global summit, about, by and for girls of color."
Organized by Making a New Reality Foundation, Project G.U.R.L.S. - an acronym for Growth, Unity, Respect, Leadership and Success - is a growing coalition of grassroots organizations including Girls for A Change, Girls Moving Forward, OBG Adventure Camp and Cinnamongirls Inc., to name a few.
In conjunction with the launch of Project G.U.R.L.S. and the push for the 2012 Global G.U.R.LS. Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., Mitchell - a Harvard Law School educated attorney - is challenging the American Bar Association, the Commission on Women in the Profession and the legal profession to support girls of color through grassroots programs such as G.U.R.L.S. Rock and Project G.U.R.L.S. These organizations are two of many "innovative tools" that can be used to build diversity and support long-term retention of women of color in the legal profession.
"Our goal is to break down barriers to success and build cultural competence and acceptance of women of color in leadership roles," said Mitchell. In the coming months, members from Project G.U.R.L.S. will be making market tours, scheduling appearances and making themselves available for speaking engagements to discuss implementation of this initiative and to market law firm sponsorship of G.UR.L.S. Rock events around the country.
Inspired by Margaret Bret Award Recipient
This initiative is inspired by Elizabeth J. Cabraser's compelling acceptance speech when she received the Margaret Brent Award at the American Bar Association's 20th Annual Margaret Brent Awards Luncheon held Aug. 8 in San Francisco. Brent was the first women lawyer in America.
"So long as those scales [of justice] remain unbalanced, our justice must be the do-it-yourself, Âdon't take no for an answer' justice of Margaret Brent: the justice of yet unfinished business," Cabraser said during the event.
The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession has undertaken the Women of Color Research Institute Project and issued two reports on the unacceptable statistics and experiences of women of color in law firms and the legal profession. However, there is room for the commission itself to implement new and innovative programs moving the needle for women of color.
"It's time to stop researching and start acting," said Kyndra Miller, an African-American attorney and member of Project G.U.RL.S. "We don't need research to tell us what we are experiencing. We need innovation and actions."
The return on investment for law firms participating in Project G.U.R.LS. is that the firms begin to adopt new skills to break down barriers and build acceptance that women of color are the new generation of leaders.
"When a lawyer's or law firms' first experience with girls of color, if any at all, is one limited to triage situations, even pro bono relationships and social good, the relationship starts off on unequal footing and never recovers," Miller said. "It carries over and limits perceptions and interactions with women of color seeking to rise within the law firm environment.
"It is really a matter of cultural competency, the law firms' lacking in professional interactions with women of color experience discomfort with women of color in leadership roles," Miller added.
"Project G.U.R.L.S. demonstrates the power of collaboration of community-based grassroots organizations, who are nimble and can still achieve meaningful results for girls of color," said Whitney Smith, CEO of Girls for A Change, who was honored at the 2009 Lanterns Awards by the Black Women Lawyers Association, the Latina Lawyers Bar Association and the WLALA Foundation for Girls for A Change.
Call for recognition of change leaders in the profession
The collaborative team at Project G.U.R.L.S. also proposes that the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession take lead with efforts to acknowledge women in the legal profession who measurably changes the game for girls of color and women of color in building access and retention in the legal profession.
In recognition of Charlotte E. Ray being the first African-American woman lawyer, the leadership teams advocates that the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession establish The Charlotte E. Ray Change Leadership Awards to encourage the legal profession to think big - and act big - and create change and opportunity for women of color in the profession. This award is not limited to women of color as recipients.
Global summit to bring about change
The goal of the Aug. 28 Project G.U.R.L.S. Global Leadership Summit is to change the game and to take action. Girls and Girls of color will experience leadership in the global community - and the global community will experience and see girls of color in leadership roles.
"It is and will be a powerful visual of action when major law firms, legal associations and bar associations such as ABA share visible participation in our programs supporting girls of color as global leaders," said Crystal Riggins, a participating attorney with the summit. "We need the legal profession to take lead in support, participation and engagement of grassroots organizations such as Project G.U.R.L.S."
"In the spirit of thinking big and acting big, we hope to extend invitations to First Lady Michelle Obama, a Harvard Law School trained lawyer, and the three pioneering female Supreme Court Justices - Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan - to usher in the inaugural 2012 Global G.U.R.L.S. Leadership Summit and installation of a Charlotte E. Ray Change Leadership Awards program," said summit creator Mitchell "It would be an amazing moment in time and recognition of the vital and essential role girls of color play as the next generation of leaders in our global community."
In the coming months, Project G.U.R.L.S. will be making market tours, scheduling appearances and ensuring its staff is available for speaking engagements to discuss implementation of this initiative, along with planning regional G.U.R.L.S Rock events.