Letter From The President Of The Chicago Bar Association

2013-05-23 13:31


To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel

Lawyers Work With Community Leaders To Reach Chicago Kids

The 22, 000-member Chicago Bar Association is one of the oldest and largest city bars in the United States. We are proud of our very active members who work through 72 different committees to serve the profession and their colleagues. Our charter also requires us to serve the public. For 139 years, our generous and civic-minded members have served the wider community in many ways.

I’m particularly proud of the programs run by one of our most unique committees, the Interfaith Committee. This hardworking group is composed of lawyers, judges, members of the clergy, activists, social workers, educators, and other members of the public who work toward one goal, to reduce youth violence in our city. 

Under the leadership of the chair, Judge Thomas L. Hogan of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and vice chair Hon. Sheila Murphy, Circuit Court Judge (ret.), the committee meets every Thursday at 8 a.m. to administer programs for Chicago youth in the 6th to 8th grades. This age group is the target because the Committee hopes to interrupt the cycle that leads from childhood to violent young adulthood. Or, as Judge Hogan says, “We want to keep them out of the legal system.”  Younger children wouldn’t be mature enough for the programs, and high school is too late.

Under its auspices, the Interfaith Committee runs a Restorative Justice program to teach students about alternative methods of dispute resolution that they can put to use in their everyday interactions; the Media Literacy program, which uses filmmaking skills to teach kids how images in media can be manipulated to glamorize violence; and our recently concluded pilot project, the Truancy Attendance Program (TAP), which pairs truant students with mentors who try to help resolve the issues that make students absent from school and lead almost inexorably to dropping out.

So far, this small but valiant Committee has worked with more than 250 Chicago students through schools and churches.  It has created inter-bar cooperation with the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago, the Cook County Bar Association and the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois. It has conducted programs in two of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, Englewood and Roseland. It has crossed the cultural divide by planning to put TAP into the Back of the Yards neighborhood to work with students of Mexican heritage. It’s very much a boots-on-the-ground approach to putting lawyers on the frontline where Chicago’s children need the most help.

The Committee has also worked hard to publicize the issue of truancy and violence. This spring, the Committee filmed a two-part television show at WYCC TV (PBS) exploring the truancy issue with Professor Gretchen Cusick of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune reporter David Jackson and Judge Joan L. Byer of the Louisville, Kentucky family court. The program aired in May 2013.

What heartens us most at the CBA about this “little committee that could” is that it continues to expand its plans – to get funding, to get public attention focused on the issues faced by Chicago’s at-risk kids, to recruit more lawyer volunteers, and to put themselves front and center in the struggle.

Sincerely yours,

Aurora Abella-Austriaco