Larissa Mervin, Shameka Jamison and Jen Story participate in Community Conversation.

The Juvenile Justice & Children’s Rights Section and the Minorities In the Profession Committee of the North Carolina Bar Association joined forces on Thursday, May 9, to host the Racial Equity Institute’s Introductory Groundwater Training Program at the N.C. Bar Center in Cary.

Approximately 150 people participated in the program. See photos here.

“Turnout was great,” said Niya Fonville, co-chair of the Minorities in the Profession Committee, “not only in number but in the diversity of the participants and the attendees. That to me was the important part because sometimes you find yourself hosting events and you see the same people over and over, so at some point you find yourself preaching to the choir.

“I love the fact that we had different types of identities and practice areas, and some students, which is important because they are the future of the legal profession. Getting them involved with this type of program is a good thing.”

The Racial Equity Institute describes itself as: an alliance of trainers, organizers and institutional leaders who have devoted ourselves to the work of creating racially equitable organizations and systems.

The process is designed to help leaders and organizations who want to proactively understand and address racism, both in their organization and in the community where the organization is working. The Racial Equity Institute, LLC process is just that: an 18-month to two-year process.

Our experience is that the goals of understanding and addressing racism can rarely be achieved in a three-hour or one-day workshop. Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history. To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort.

The Racial Equity Institute’s typical training program described above is how the “groundwater training” program came into being. A few years ago, the Juvenile Justice & Children’s Rights Section received a grant from the North Carolina Bar Foundation Endowment to send four or five individuals through Phase 1 of the Racial Equity Institute training program.

That positive experience led Jen Story, who currently chairs the section, to contact Fonville and her co-chair, Rashad Morgan, about conducting a joint program. Brandy Bynum Dawson, Racial Justice Committee chair and incoming section chair, also played a leading role in bringing the event to fruition.

“This was not even a Minorities in the Profession Committee idea,” Fonville said, “but as soon as we heard about it, we said ‘absolutely!’ The training typically takes two days to complete Phase 1, but the trainers were willing and able to do this introductory training, which was completely OK.

“This is some heavy stuff, when you are seeing the intersectionality and the connection of these various systems, and that what we have been doing is putting band-aids on the problems, you realize that until we get to the root cause of it that we are not going to make that change that is long-lasting.”

To that end, Fonville continued, the training program was followed by an interactive reception in the Hunter Galleria.

“We need to make sure that we continue the conversation,” Fonville said. “That is one reason why we wanted to have the training but also the Community Conversation networking piece afterward.

“These are some heavy problems, but one might ask, ‘What in the world am I supposed to do?’ Collectively we can work together to try to maneuver and make some headway.”

In addition to the original grant from the NCBF Endowment, the Introductory Groundwater Training program received support from the following sponsors: 15B Judicial District Bar, Capital City Lawyers Association, Criminal Justice Section, Education Law Section, Juvenile Justice & Children’s Rights Section, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of North Carolina, Tharrington Smith LLP and Wake County Bar Association.