By Annie Butterworth Jones
At its December meeting, the Board of Governors approved a $50,000 budget amendment to fund a new diversity program providing grant funding to local bar associations through the Bar’s Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. The new program is part of the Bar’s expanded efforts to promote diversity at the local level.
Voluntary bar associations can be awarded individual grants up to $1,500, and up to $3,000 may be awarded to multiple voluntary bars working together on a project. Grant applications are due to the special committee by January 18.
“We want to let local bars know that there is a deadline, and they need to send in an application,” said Arnell Bryant-Willis, a public board member and co-chair of the special committee. “We want to have personal contact with the local bars. That personal contact — not just that ‘we have dollars for you’ — does work.”
Preparations for the grant program began last May, when the Board of Governors approved a dozen recommendations from the Program Evaluation Committee, including the creation of the special committee, a move promoted by former Bar President Jesse Diner.
“We wanted a fresh look at the entire diversity program and to reach further out to the voluntary bars to get more work done at the local level,” Diner said at the May 2010 meeting.
Co-chaired by Bryant-Willis and Board member Dori Foster-Morales, the special committee was charged with developing guidelines for the diversity grant program, which will support and promote conferences, seminars, training, and dialogue through efforts by local and specialty bar associations.
Although some Bar members have expressed concern that these local efforts will distract from the Bar’s own diversity initiatives — in particular those established by the Equal Opportunities Law Section — committee members believe the new grant program will actually ramp up overall efforts.
“We’re trying to reach out to the community and ensure that diversity and inclusion are on everyone’s radar, and that’s why we’ve chosen the local voluntary bars,” said Bryant-Willis. “They know the communities. They know what the issues are in their area, so they’re the most viable tool or instrument that we can use.”
Grant funds can be used for a variety of programs, including small-scale projects like luncheons and trainings. “These don’t have to be daylong diversity symposiums,” said Co-chair Foster-Morales.
“This is really a neat program,” said Bar President Mayanne Downs. “We’re getting a lot of strong feedback and excitement from the local bars.”
Members of the special committee hope that excitement translates into grant applications.
“There is not a set agenda or specific program that the local bars are required to do,” said Bryant-Willis. “We need to take a very broad brush when we deal with diversity and inclusion. They can be creative and look at the total realm of diversity and inclusion and not look at it with a narrow scope.”
Projects for this grant cycle must be completed within the grant period. Annual grants start with the Bar year (July 1) and end with the Bar year (June 30); grants awarded after submission in January would end by June 30. The special committee plans to meet on February 2 in Tampa to select and make award recommendations.
More information about the diversity leadership grants can be found on the Bar website at www.floridabar.org. Applications — including grant proposals — for grant funding must be submitted by January 18 to Maria Simmons Johnson at The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399 or firstname.lastname@example.org.