In June, PILI’s Board President and Executive Director issued a Statement on Racism. They stated, “Racism in America is real. It is systemic. It is pervasive. Like George Floyd, too many people of color have paid dearly for the racism that we as a nation have failed to address throughout our history. We stand with all of those who fight every day to end racism in all of its forms.” The statement centered on actions that PILI could take to redouble its commitment to the fight against racism. Most importantly it contained a commitment to listening to the experiences and perspectives of people of color, in order to better inform PILI as to what we can do to support and engage them in our work.
To put its words into action, PILI has created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Working Group to determine how PILI can effectively realize this commitment internally, externally through its programming and services, and in support of its partner organizations. Three Co-Chairs lead the group: Lee Ann Russo, past PILI president and current Life Director on the PILI Board of Directors; Kimberly Mills, a member of the PILI Alumni Network Leadership Council; and Sabreena El-Amin, past Chair and current member of the PILI Young Professionals Board. The DEI Working Group is comprised of 21 additional members who represent a wide spectrum of the Illinois legal community bringing diverse perspectives based on race, gender identity, disability, age and professional background. The group covers both Cook County and other areas around Illinois where PILI has a Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee. It is staffed by Managing Attorney Jessica Schneider and Development Manager Sang Yup Lee.
The Co-Chairs developed the following purpose statement: “The PILI Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Working Group commits to addressing the pervasive and systemic racism that prevents justice from being accessible and equitable for all, recognizing its effect on both those working to advance justice and those who seek access to justice. It strives to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in order to cultivate and retain diverse leadership, provide empowering and inclusive programming and further such efforts by PILI’s partners. The Working Group will achieve these aims by developing a report including written recommendations for the PILI Board of Directors.” The Working Group includes three sub-working groups focusing on different areas of PILI’s work: Legal Profession Pipeline, PILI Programming and Pro Bono Legal Services.
The DEI Working Group recently held its first meeting and members shared their reasons for wanting to be a part of the group. Reflected in all the responses was a deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and a collective readiness to contribute to positive change. One group member shared that the directness of PILI’s statement identifying that racism is real, systemic and pervasive inspired her to be a part of this effort. PILI strongly believes that furthering diversity, equity and inclusion is a critical part of fulfilling our mission. We look forward to the coming recommendations from the group and are grateful to its leadership and membership for their efforts. PILI is grateful to our Co-Chairs and all of the DEI Working Group members for their time and commitment to lead this important effort.