How does your life story relate to the mission of SVUDL?
I grew up in Detroit. Even though I had financial and other challenges growing up, I feel that I had more opportunities than others at various times in my life. My parents were very social minded, and instilled in me a feeling that we need to do more for the community than for your self.
I wanted to be an advocate for those not afforded the same opportunities that many of us, including myself, have been given. It is important to me to be able to lead by example, and to give people a glimpse of what’s possible. SVUDL captures that well, particularly for kids who may be coming from situations without professional role models, or examples of what it is to be an attorney, let alone another profession.
Although I was not a debater in high school, I appreciate that it is a stepping-stone with great potential for entering into the legal profession. Being able to expose kids to the profession is important to me personally. It is a community building of sorts and I value it highly.
I didn’t know I wanted to be lawyer until after college, but I had opportunities prior to that which opened my eyes to different professional paths. For example, I had access to a summer program called LEAD in high school that was aimed at students from underrepresented communities. I lived on the campus of UCLA for a month with other students from across the country. We took modified business school courses. We also travelled up and down the California coast; we met with executives to hear about their jobs and even visited Stanford. Ultimately, I went to college there. Talk about an opportunity to see myself in that environment, and to be exposed to experiences and possibilities I hadn’t contemplated previously in my life! This exposure revealed opportunities that then led to other life-changing experiences.
I equate this in many ways with what students in SVUDL are doing today. They exert their intellectual horsepower. Debating competitively and participating in SVUDL’s mentorship program present opportunities to see what the possibilities could be for them if they were to choose a legal career. Seeing diverse attorneys in companies and law firms is critical. Students may not recognize that some come from similar backgrounds and challenges, but when you sit down with them to share your personal story, additional possibilities become even more accessible. A recognition emerges that this is someone who might have had similar experiences but still had the ability to do these different things. This broadens their horizons and mindsets in what they can accomplish in their own right.
It’s the opportunities that SVUDL affords students that is so inspiring: to hear a judge from the 9th circuit say to SVUDL students that you’ve done better than some of the attorneys that have come before you in actual arguments, and you are in high school is something the students take great pride in. It lets them see what they can accomplish that they might not have contemplated before: at its core, SVUDL is about exposure, and being able to see themselves in different circles in the future.
How do you believe debate can impact someone over the course of a lifetime?
I think whether it’s in the legal field, or otherwise the ability to articulate oneself, that this capability to position feelings and thoughts is an underpinning for success in all professional fields. The skills these students are learning will serve them throughout their lives personally and professionally. People are more successful when they can speak persuasively, calmly and with some authority. SVUDL students are learning all these skills through debate.
These same skills apply to being an in-house attorney. Part of the job is to impart information to your clients in a way they can understand it. If you are able to convey information to clients succinctly, and with all of the necessary information, it makes you a better trusted advisor internally. Again, this is coming back to skills you learn in debate. It is directly applicable to your success in a law firm or an-house setting.
Why is your firm/company a champion of SVUDL and its upcoming “Words to the Wise” 5th Anniversary event?
I’m very proud to be a part of HP. We go beyond lip service on diversity. It’s purposeful. We have worked hard to build it into our fabric and our core. It started at the board level. As we emerged from our corporate split in 2015, we created a diverse board, one of the most --if not the most-- in all of technology company boards.
This effort trickles down into the every level and aspect of the company. Of course, like every company, we still have work to do, but the ethos is there. We are passionate about diversifying the pipeline. With SVUDL, we are supporting an organization that is really empowering students to achieve. The number of students, the college acceptances and the attendance rate are all key indicators of success.
We want to contribute as much as we can, and by supporting SVUDL and Words to the Wise we are doing that. The event will be a good reminder to all attendees, including my HP colleagues, about the work of SVUDL. We’ve had involvement since the beginning, and I plan to use SVUDL and the event to remind my colleagues of this great opportunity that we have to help students succeed.
Why do you hope other companies, law firms and even individuals will support the event?
The more companies and people we get involved in SVDUL’s SVUDL’s activities, the greater impact we can have and the more students we can reach. There’s been a lot of growth recently in the number of schools and the number of students we are reaching. We can all grow together: schools, students, SVUDL and companies. I hesitate to use the phrase “it takes a village”, but it really does. Expansion of our volunteer reach gives the students more and more opportunity to see different things, and to envision themselves in different scenarios.
Practices, industries, and technologies are all different. SVUDL gives them a bigger pool to draw from because this is all about exposure. It’s a resounding theme within SVUDL: the more they can see different things, then the more they can envision themselves in that very place.
Why is diversity important?
From a legal practice, and a business perspective, the more diverse perspectives you have to bear on your problem, the better your solution will be. This has been proven by research and science. We like to have diverse perspectives so we can address problems in a way that is not only thoughtful of the company, but also of our customers and other stakeholders around the country and around the world. We need to be able to represent more than just one viewpoint of things. Indeed, we need to be able to challenge things in different ways. Different communities think about things in different ways. We need to have a holistic response.
No matter what type of diversity we are talking about – whether racial, gender, or any other type - all these bring a more innovative approach to solving problems.
Speaking of diversity, why is it important for these students to see themselves in professional careers?
“If you can perceive it and believe it, you can achieve it” is a saying that rings true here. If you can’t even see a potential opportunity, then it is hard to imagine yourself in a particular position - it comes back to the theme of exposure. If you are exposed to careers in the profession, and meet some of the same challenges encountered by people who are currently in it, you realize the profession is attainable and that you can do it too.