On November 5th, the Waterloo OJEN Committee hosted the 2nd annual Braiding Diversity into Justice – a day long program for young women from racialized and/or marginalized communities to learn about careers in law. Approximately 30 young women met at the Waterloo Region Courthouse to connect with female professionals working in the justice sector.
The program aims to inspire young women, who might not otherwise consider a career in law, to look at the many options available to them.
Justice Catrina Braid, co-chair of the Waterloo region committee, is a passionate advocate for justice education. Women, in particular, are close to her heart. She recalls that her own decision to pursue a law degree arose from a high school co-op placement with a law firm. She had the opportunity to meet and work with two incredible women family law lawyers who opened her eyes to the possibilities of a legal career.
“I want to pay that forward,” she explains. “I want to give other young women an opportunity to meet women who will inspire them.”
The day began with the Honourable George R. Strathy, Chief Justice for Ontario, welcoming the participants to the program. In his opening address he emphasised the importance of a justice system that reflects Canadian society and the necessity for justice professionals to represent the diversity of the communities they serve.
Throughout the day, the young women participants listened to women judges, lawyers, parole officers, law clerks, police officers and other justice sector professionals talk about their varied paths to careers in law. They received tips and strategies for succeeding in their post-secondary studies and in life.
In her keynote address, Justice Jodie-Lynn Waddilove of the Ontario Court of Justice discussed the challenges she faced in her journey to becoming a judge. Growing up in a small First Nation community, she did not know anyone who had attended university and had never met a lawyer, when she decided that this was going to be her goal. The strength of her determination and support from her community helped her achieve success.
Another highlight of the day was an address by the Honourable Helen Whitener, a Superior Court Judge in Washington State, recipient of this years’ Justice Charles Z. Smith Excellence in Diversity Award from the Washington State Bar Association. A champion for diversity, equity and inclusion, Justice Whitener persevered through numerous challenges and difficulties as a student and young professional. “I am telling you this so that you know you can overcome anything,” she told them.
At lunch, participants broke into groups and visited local law firms. They met with lawyers and law clerks for a meal and a chat about what life was like working in a law career.
According to Mara Clarke, OJEN’s Program Developer – Outreach, programs like Braiding Diversity into Justice are important because they change the messages that young women and girls of diverse backgrounds receive time and time again – that they can’t – they’re not good enough, they don’t belong, they don’t fit in. “This program tells them that there are people who have taken the journey before them and that their way is paved. If you want it, this is a career for you. You are welcome and you have a place here.”
For the young women who attended the program, it was a powerful learning experience. Here are a few of the comments they had at the end of the day:
“I learned many things today and feel really honoured to have heard so many stories and met so many women in the profession.”
“Before coming to this event I was very confused with what I wanted to do but now I have more direction… These women today have definitely inspired me to pursue law and I am very grateful for the opportunity.”
“I learned that there is always a way to achieve my favorite career! Nothing can stop me and we all can help our society.”
Congratulations to the Waterloo OJEN Committee for offering this inspiring justice education initiative!