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New Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Black Women Lawyers Association installs officers

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Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Black Women Lawyers Association Executive Board members with Judge Sheree Davis Cunningham. From the left Destinie Baker Sutton, Sandra Powery Moses, Judge Cunningham; Sia Baker-Barnes, and Salesia Smith-Gordon.

More than two dozen Black female lawyers in Palm Beach made history by forming the Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Black Women Lawyers Association (SDCBWLA), the first Black women lawyers’ association in Palm Beach County.

Nearly 200 guests filled the courtroom at the Fourth District Court of Appeal February 24, during Black History Month, to celebrate the new organization whose goal is to provide mentorship, guidance, and support to its members and their unique experiences in the practice of law.

Rosalyn Sia Baker-Barnes was installed as president, Sandra Powery Moses as first vice president, Destinie Baker Sutton as second vice president, and Salesia V. Smith-Gordon as secretary/treasurer.

“This is a historic day for our legal community and we are honored that so many judges, voluntary bar leaders, and members of the community joined us to celebrate this day,” said President Baker-Barnes, who also serves on The Florida Bar Board of Governors. “Our goal is one of inclusion, to be sure that all lawyers have the opportunity and foundation to have successful, fulfilling legal careers. We look forward to helping to provide our members with that foundation.”

Judge cunningham and Judge Brunson

Judge Sheree Davis Cunningham, left, the first Black woman to serve on the Palm Beach County bench, and Judge Catherine Brunson, the first Black woman to serve on Palm Beach County circuit bench.

The organization’s namesake is Judge Sheree Davis Cunningham, the first Black woman to serve on the bench in Palm Beach County. Appointed in 1993 to the 15th Circuit’s county court, Cunningham spoke at the event and lauded the organization’s leadership for carrying on her legacy of service to the community.

The event also featured retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, the first and only Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Quince installed the inaugural executive board, charter board members and judicial advisors and encouraged the members to continue in leadership and service to the community.

Florida Bar President Mike Tanner also spoke, applauding the vision of the organization’s leaders and stating that the SDCBWLA will touch its members in a personal way that will provide for collegiality and mentorship. Tanner said the Bar needs organizations like the new association to provide the foundation for success for the over 110,000 lawyers in Florida.

Other guests included former Justice Barbara Pariente, Bar President-elect Gary S. Lesser, Tricia “CK” Hoffler, immediate past president of the National Bar Association; retired Fourth DCA Judge W. Matthew Stevenson, Fourth DCA Chief Judge Burton C. Conner, and 15th Circuit Chief Judge Glenn Kelley.

The organization’s founders, Baker-Barnes, Powery Moses and Baker Sutton, said they heeded a call to action from the ABA, after years of discussing the idea and personally experiencing challenges in the profession. Black women lawyers make up less than 2% of firm partners in the U.S., and less than 5% of all American lawyers. A recent ABA study, “Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color,” found that over 70% of women lawyers of color want to leave the practice of law due to isolation, bias, and lack of opportunity for advancement. In the end, the authors issued a challenge: “We ask that this study not be read and then put on a shelf to be picked up five years from now and ‘surprisingly’ discover nothing has changed. This study provides some answers to the questions about the state of women of color in the profession and if used to its fullest extent will assist in the change that is urgently needed now.”

“When you are having challenges that you don’t know how to navigate, you need someone to turn to, some solid advice and a place you can call home,” said First Vice President Sandra Powery Moses. “We established this association with those thoughts in mind.”

On the heels of the Installation ceremony, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This marks the first time in the 230-year history of the Supreme Court of the United States that a Black woman has ever been nominated,” said Second Vice President Destinie Baker Sutton. “Judge Jackson’s historic nomination is a step in the right direction toward justice and equality for all. It encourages the next generation of Black women lawyers by demonstrating that we can achieve the American Dream to reach the highest pinnacles of success in our legal careers.”

The organization’s charter members include Donise Edwards Brown, Kalinthia Dillard, Adrienne Ellis, Gloretta Hall, Elaine Johnson James, Hershley Ogé, Ava Parker, Lisa Quarrie, Pamala Ryan, Salesia V. Smith-Gordon, Gwendolyn Tuggle, Lawonda Warren, Ethel Isaacs Williams, and Dawn Wynn.

The charter members span a wide range of practice areas and years of experience, and include partners, sole practitioners, in-house counsel, public sector leadership, a college president, and the chief assistant state attorney of the 15th Circuit.

The organization’s judicial advisors include 15th Circuit Judges Maxine Cheesman, Renatha Francis, Cymonie Rowe, Debra Moses Stephens, U.S. Magistrate Judge Shaniek Maynard, Administrative Magistrate Judge Maxine Williams, and former Magistrate Judge Damary Stokes.

“Diversity in the legal profession is broader than race and gender,” Secretary/Treasurer Salesia Smith-Gordon said. “Acknowledging the diversity of traditional and non-traditional areas of legal practice broadens the spectrum of interest and serves a catalyst for growth and opportunity.”

SDCBWLA welcomes all lawyers to join and participate in the organization’s activities and programming.

For more information, click here or check out SDCBWLA’s social media platforms:

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