When Alumni Conference planning chairs Chris Mugica and Christine Marlewski settled on "Courageous Leadership" as this year's theme, they couldn't have known the impact those words would have on attendees. 

Teens from the Albany Park Theater Project perform. (Photo by
Don Belt)

Held in Chicago, the conference kicked off with a community service project benefitting the non-profit Albany Park Theatre Project, a multiethnic youth theater ensemble that inspires audiences to envision a more just and beautiful world. Led by Yvette Gatling, Reena Bajowala, and Jason DeJonker, the Alumni began by teaching the inner-city students, many from immigrant backgrounds, the fundamentals of networking.

In return, the students taught the Fellows about the devastation that criminalizing immigration has on families, during a brief but powerful live performance (pictured at right) about deportation. Not a Fellow left the performance with a dry eye.

The next day began with programs devoted to creating career success, and how courage can make all the difference.

Tonit Calaway, former Vice President of Human Resources at Harley-Davidson, Inc., emphasized the importance of fearlessness, authenticity, and coping with failure on the road to success. Comparing a legal career to steering a Harley, she urged the Fellows to ride confidently in pursuit of their passion.

Other sessions prepared Fellows to serve and/or interact successfully with corporate boards, presented success stories from a group of Fellows Alumni who've ascended to positions of leadership, and shared bench-level observations on diversity from an esteemed panel of Chicago judges.

As the day came to a close, Bryan Stevenson (below), author of the critically acclaimed Just Mercy and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, challenged the Alumni to demonstrate moral courage – by thinking critically about issues of justice and incarceration. His stories riveted the audience: accounts of wrongly-accused death row inmates sent to the electric chair despite overwhelming evidence of innocence; intellectually-challenged death row inmates begging for chocolate milkshakes; and the plight of children – small, weak, and terrorized – who are sentenced to serve time in adult prisons.

Bryan Stevenson delivers the keynote speech. (Photo by
Nabil Foster)

Citing his years of experience as a public defender, judicial activist, and advocate before the Supreme Court, Stevenson stated four key principals to remember when combatting injustice: 1) proximity – get as close as possible to the problem, and your clients; 2) put yourself in uncomfortable situations, especially when challenging systemic inequality and injustice; 3) understand and use the immense power of narratives to promote the rights of marginalized members of society; and 4) don't give up hope, even in the face of overwhelming despair.

Moved by Stevenson's courage and eloquence, the Alumni responded with a prolonged standing ovation.


The Fifth Annual LCLD Fellows Alumni Conference introduced the 2016-2017 LCLD Fellows Alumni Executive Council, led by Chair Jason DeJonker, spotlighted the 2016 Rick Palmore LCLD Fellows Alumni Leadership Awardees Yvette Gatling and Kamran Khan, honored the 2012 Fellows Alumni class with the annual Owlie Award for community service participation, and officially closed the 2016 “All In!” campaign.

This conference, like those before it, provided Fellows Alumni with an opportunity to nurture their relationships with each other, learn from leaders in the profession, grow their community, and give back to others. It also provided Fellows Alumni with a renewed understanding of the importance of diversity in the profession and empowered them to better understand the potential impact their time, energy, and passion can have on the important work that remains to be done.

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