Friday, January 25, 2008

Big Shoes To Fill

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope."

Robert Kennedy

“You have big shoes to fill.”

Time and time again I would hear that phrase as I introduced myself as the successor of Ashley Wiltshire as Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society. In time, I was finally able to embrace what that really meant and what was really most important.

In the past six months, I have learned that you never really fill another person’s shoes and nor should you try. Ashley built a wonderful, strong organization but he didn’t do it by himself. It never has been nor ever will be about any one individual. He needed the community of all the people that have worked in this organization the past 31 years, some of whom still remain as staff dedicated to the mission and work.

He needed the community of the “alumni” of the Legal Aid Society that continued to support the work and spread the message of equal justice to persons who are poor. He needed the community of the private bar to respond to the overwhelming need for legal assistance and narrow the gap. He needed the support of grants and donations to financially support the work that needs to be done.

Recognizing the importance of community, I can also recognize the great leadership of Ashley that inspired and gave confidence to staff, other agencies, and supporters. He seized the opportunity and made a path for this organization that has enabled it to deliver justice and hope to our clients.

On Wednesday night, we had a reception to celebrate my first six months as executive director. It was a wonderful evening that brought together old and new friends of the Legal Aid Society and mine. As I sat in my office to prepare my thoughts for the evening, I listened to a CD from the group U2. As I heard the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, I smiled with the comfort that I had found what I was looking for. This is where I belong and this is the work I was prepared to do.

As I mentioned in my remarks, we often find ourselves lamenting that “there is only so much you can do.” But, with community coming together in unity, we can enthusiastically say “there is so much we can do!” This spirit filled our offices that evening with the feeling of affirmation from our community to our work and what we can do. Passion and persistence.

I have learned a great deal in the past six months. I have blogged to share my thoughts and experiences. As I was writing in the blog for the last time, I kept thinking about how to come to some closure to this experience. I suppose the last thought is that legal aid is a basic need, like food, clothing, safety, health care and shelter. The provision of legal assistance to a person who is poor is the key to unlock the door to those necessities – the core essentials of life.

There was one other exciting aspect of the reception. We had requested that people bring blankets, socks and shoes for needy individuals and families. Earlier in the week, one of my friends that I play basketball with at the YMCA told me that he had gone to COSTCO and bought some socks to bring to the event. He was willing to give a little more, make a little extra effort. At the end of the evening, I had a chance to see the collection of items and it choked me up. The next day I sorted the items and smiled as I thought how each item could help.
This morning, Traci Pekovitch of the Mental Health Co-Op came to our office and we loaded up boxes and boxes of blankets, shoes and socks. They work with consumers who not only use their facility for psychiatric/case management care, but also use the Campus for Human Development, Urban Housing Solutions, Downtown Clinic, Family Life Center, and the Nashville Rescue Mission. Tonight, they will be doing outreach to persons that are homeless and they will have these items to share with them. By meeting a basic need, it will be a way to talk about other needs.

I thought of the socks that my friend had donated. Tonight, someone will be getting those nice, new warm socks. As he puts on those socks, he will know that someone thought enough about his life to give a pair of socks. His life has value and his community wants him to press on. Who knows, maybe it will be just enough encouragement to tell him that life will get better soon. It just might give a tiny ripple of hope to him. We can help ease people’s burdens and uplift their spirits. It may be something as simple as socks, a smile, a word of encouragement, or legal assistance.

We truly can do so much.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Casualties of War

All the survivors of the war had reached their homes and so put the perils
of battle and the sea behind them.
Homer, The Odyssey, line 1

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.
John F. Kennedy

I have not written an entry for more than a month but there has been a recurring blog in my mind during that time that I have just not been able to put down on paper.

Veterans Day. I had never really felt much significance or meaning when Veterans Day was recognized. I would pay momentary tribute in some form but that was it. There was no deep thought or lasting impression on me.

This year was different. It started when I found myself drawn to the PBS documentary of the Second World War, “The War.” Although my father was in The Philippines during WW II, I really never made a connection with Veterans Day. It really wasn’t relevant. Part of the reason was that I could never remember my father ever talking about the war. Not once. The only memory I had was some obscure article that referenced my father as Mike “Blackie” Housepian and joked about how he couldn’t sleep at night in his tent without getting up and walking numerous times around his tent.

Knowing my own discomfort with unpleasant conditions when camping, I though this was funny about my father and felt some connection with his restlessness. Like most things for my brothers and me, we gravitated to and remembered the humor. But, it was also the only experience that was shared with us. Men were not expected to share their horrors or fears; we only wanted to hear the happy, heroic stories. Who wants to know about the quiet suffering?

It was not until years later that I would better understand my father’s restlessness. I watched portions of the PBS footage in the Philippines and found myself searching for a glimpse of my father. I didn’t see him but I did see him. I saw young men with dark, deep-set eyes with an almost vacant look. Saying nothing and everything at once. I saw the horrors that they saw and the conditions that they survived. I finally learned a little more about what a 21-year-old man was experiencing.

Instead of enjoying a Coney Island hot dog, cold beer and watching a Detroit Tigers game, he was thrown into a world and experience that would forever alter his life. He didn’t know that when he enlisted, he was just a kid. He was just doing what he thought was the right thing, what was expected of young men.

My father did come home but did not put the “perils of battle and the sea” behind him. Part of him was left behind in the Philippines and he carried with him the perils for the next 22 years. He would never be the same.

My mother said he wanted to be a sports writer but ended up a butcher. I remember his battles with life and not finding peace during most of my childhood. He was trying to do what was expected of him but not able to, not for himself, his wife or his sons. Over the years, I held him in my memory too harshly for not meeting my expectations, not being able to keep his job, and not being “strong enough.” I loved him but considered his greatest achievement was selecting my mother as his wife. I never saw him as a courageous figure. I was so judgmental of a person that I really never knew.

I never really understood that his war never ended when he was discharged and contracted malaria. His war finally ended at the age of 44 with a heart attack, 40 years ago from tomorrow. He fought as long as he could. It’s funny when my mother tells the story of how he dropped her off at the hospital when I was to be born as his third son while he went to a bar to watch a boxing match on television. He was the boxer and, finally, 40 years later, I have been able to see him more clearly for what he endured and tried to do.

So, Veterans’ Day has taken on new meaning for me. It is relevant and significant. Often, it seems like we need to have things become ”personal” before we really feel a connection. If you or a family member experiences a disease, injury, disability, racism, then it takes on a new meaning. It becomes personal. People raise money for cancer, form support groups regarding Alzheimer’s disease, speak out on racism, and establish foundations. There is a connection to do something to heal out of something that hurts.

I see the persons that are homeless and feel a connection. Reports show that 25 percent of the homeless population is veterans. That is a staggering statistic. Even more staggering is sorting out all the issues. I am grateful to all the organizations that are trying to help these men and women on their journey. Legal Aid Society tries to help with obtaining assistance, affordable housing and health care. I am hopeful that more and more of our work can be funded to assist these veterans.

Yesterday, Congress was presented with stories and statistics of military serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan–more staggering statistics and stories of high suicide rates and “injuries to mental health” for young men and women when they return. They are not leaving their battles behind them as Homer had written centuries ago. Until mankind ends war, we must find ways to try to heal the servicemen and women and their families who are the casualties of war. It is the least that we can do.

As a 15-year-old boy growing up, I didn’t see my father’s courage and strengths when he died. As a 55-year-old man, his humanity still eluded me. It eludes me no more. We can always find ways to pass judgment on others for not meeting “expectations.” But, we can also find ways to lift up and recognize the strengths. We have a choice and it is not too late.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Real Challenge

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

On Monday, Oct. 29, 2007, my family and I completed our seven day “Food Stamp Challenge.” We've agreed to subsist on the budget of an average food-stamp recipient: $21 per week, or approximately $1 per meal per day.

For the three of us, that meant we had a grand total of $63 to spend on all of our family’s food needs for the next week. As I described in a previous entry, community leaders were doing this as part of an effort designed to create public awareness about poverty and to urge people to contact their senators to support the Farm Bill before Congress.
We did it.

And now I have to ask myself “What did we really do?” Well, we learned something.

We learned a great deal about how precious money for food was to all of us. As a family instead of a single person, there was an element of accountability. You had to answer to the rest of the family if you spent any cash.

When we had less than $5 left during the last few days, we all knew we had to account for every penny spent. No one could spend any money unless it was absolutely essential to meals for all of us.

This meant that I could not get that cup of coffee, order of french fries, cheap hamburger, diet coke, candy bar, or bag of popcorn or chips. Buying those items would be a selfish act. These were luxuries, not “essentials.”

I learned a whole new definition of what qualified as a luxury.

We learned to make a few changes. For example, we drank tap water. We diluted the evaporated milk for our coffee. Coffee grounds and filters were used more than once. I popped popcorn on the stove almost every night as a treat. Meat was not part of any of our dinners.
I shopped at the bread outlet store. I took my time looking at various breads, squeezing them a bit, and checking prices. I finally purchased a very nice, health loaf of whole wheat bread for a dollar.

I brought home my find and displayed it like a trophy. I felt like a “big game” hunter that had brought in a feast for the family.

My daughter shouted “Good job, Dad!” because she knew that she would have some nice bread for PB&J sandwiches in the days to come. I immediately thought I should have purchased two loaves. It turns out I was right.

I should make it clear that I am so notoriously “cheap.” I look for bargains that make my daughters shake their heads. For example, my gas station has a special that any size drink is only $.99. Well, for a Housepian, this means this is a soft drink version of an “all you can eat buffet” and I get the biggest drink, even if I can’t finish it.

But, it gets better (and more embarrassing for my family). You can get any “refill” for $.79. So, what do I do? I take back my plastic cup for the $.79 refills. Why pay the extra $.20 and deny myself the joy of that bargain?

During the challenge, however, there were no soft drinks at any price. I really didn’t need it when that money could get us four more bananas on Saturday.

We also learned that eating together was an important event. My daughter and I remarked how good the food tasted. It seemed that the challenge made her mother a better cook. But, we quickly discounted that thought and attributed the change to greater hunger by the reviewers.

We learned a great deal about how hard it is, even for just one week, to live on such a tight food budget. But, this challenge had certain limitations. One of the most significant is that, unlike many of our clients, we had resources to handle additional unexpected expenses.
When I had car trouble this past Monday, I could pay for the repairs. Where would the money come from for the people that actually live on this budget? How do they pay for medication or the light bill?

We also knew that we had a “safety net” throughout the week. Despite our commitment to this project, we knew that at any time we could “go over budget” and buy the food we really wanted and “needed.” It was a security blanket that removed the element of anxiety. We never had to face the “What are we going to do?” moment.

Finally, we knew that this would end on the seventh day. The “end” was always in sight and we would be “free” to go back to old habits and spending. Our clients face this challenge, week after week, and hope that life will get better.

Let’s not fool ourselves. Anyone can do this for a week. Donald Trump can do this for a week. But, what did we really do except learn about living on this budget, sharing our experiences, and drawing attention to the Farm Bill?

Reverend Charlie Stroebel of the Room at the Inn was one of the participants in the Food Challenge and wrote “…Imagine what would happen if we only bought enough food for ourselves and designated other food for the hungry among us, and it didn't have the stigma of Food Stamps attached? It's at the heart of 2nd Harvest, food pantries, etc....”

If I really wanted to do something about hunger, pain and sadness, I don’t have to stop Monday at midnight. I could continue to forego the diet cokes and coffees and examine all our food purchases. I could stop spending money on these "luxuries" and using those funds in a more productive manner to help the community like Charlie suggests.

I am going to think about it, because I need to do something tangible that means something to the people that live like this week after week. Giving up an “excess” in exchange for something “essential.”

Like I said, Donald Trump could have done this challenge. He also could make a donation to the 2nd Harvest Food Bank and it would be a drop in the bucket. But, wouldn’t it also mean more to him if he gave up one of his “excesses” to provide some “essentials” for someone? Suppose he gave up some of his hairspray money to a local food bank. Wouldn’t that be a more meaningful step?

So, that is the lasting impression for me. The challenge has not ended, it is just beginning. It has become a challenge for self-examination and action.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Courage and Wisdom

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Quoted by Robert F. Kennedy, delivering an extemporaneous eulogy to Martin Luther King , Jr., the evening of April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC)
Greek tragic poet

On Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007, I attended a Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence event called “Meet Us at the Bridge.” It was held on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge. It was an event to honor those individuals who work to prevent domestic violence. It was also a time to remember those who have died as a result of domestic violence this past year.

I stood in the midst of the crowd and learned of the wonderful work and dedicated efforts by some individuals. I heard about lives saved.

I also heard of lives lost – taken away by violence. Taken away by someone who was supposed to care for them.

There were statistics that were announced to reinforce the tragic existence of domestic violence in our community and to emphasize that it is a community problem. I thought about writing down the statistics to share as I wrote about this experience. But, the numbers just seemed like numbers. They didn’t reflect who these victims were. Soon, I learned who they were.

One by one, they named each person, their age, and the day their life was taken. As their name was spoken, someone came forward and dropped a rose from the bridge into the water, to drift away with a final farewell. The family members will not forget and they will carry with them the senseless taking of the loved one’s life. Children will carry the memory of violence throughout their childhood and as an adult. Will it make them stronger or will it make them part of a cycle? When they hear adults arguing loudly, they will anxiously wait and fear that someone will be hurt, again?

I heard of the killing of children under the age of 5. I thought about my grandchildren and the joys that they have experienced that these children never will – riding a bicycle, that special birthday party, falling safely asleep in the arms of a mother or father.

I thought about next year and the victims to come. How close to death are they now? Who in this group will have an opportunity to “save” them, protect them, and help them start a new life?

I recalled sitting in our family law section’s case review last week and listening to the flood of calls that had come in during the past week regarding domestic violence. Our staff provides so much information and guidance to many of the callers so that they are safe, know how to get an order of protection, and how to have a safety plan for themselves and their family.

Then, there will be others for whom we will schedule an appointment to come in. I also learned that there will be a significant number of “no-shows” when the appointment day arrives. Sadly, it is unlikely that things “getting better” is the reason why they didn’t come in for further help.

For the victims, it can be too hard to follow through, too hard to see that they do have a choice, too hard to see that they deserve better, and too hard to believe that they can “make it” without the abuser.

It requires so much courage and wisdom to break away from the pain.

I was reluctant to write about this because I thought it would be too depressing and dark. But, we all may have some opportunity in our walk to save a life. It may be a co-worker, neighbor, or a family member. Our office distributes a little laminated card titled “15 Signs Someone Might Be Dangerous”. I keep some in my wallet now. I will give it to my four daughters and, in time, give it to my five grandchildren.

There are organizations and people who can help. Our staff in the family law unit told me about women that showed extraordinary courage and wisdom to make a new life. They told me about how their lives have been changed and the strength they found within themselves.

There are options. There are choices. There is hope that someday soon, when we meet at the bridge, we can talk about all the lives saved and not throw any flowers in the river.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Challenge

It is not the rich man you should properly call happy, but him who knows how to use with wisdom the blessings of the gods, to endure hard poverty, and who fears dishonor worse than death, and is not afraid to die for cherished friends or fatherland.

Horace (65 BC - 8 BC), Odes

Today was the beginning of a new challenge for me and my family. We decided to be a part of the “Food Stamp Challenge.” We've agreed to subsist on the budget of an average food-stamp recipient: $21 per week, or approximately $1 per meal per day. For my wife, Carla, and 17 year old daughter, Hadiya, this would mean we had a grand total of $63 to spend on all of our family’s food needs for the next week.

Locally, the challenge is an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Second Harvest Food Bank. It is designed to create public awareness about poverty in our community and to urge people to contact our senators to support the Farm Bill before Congress.

One of the provisions of the Farm Bill is to increase the weekly amount from its current $21 allotment for food stamp recipients. Food-stamp benefits have not been adjusted for inflation in more than a decade. There are dozens of community leaders that have agreed to join in this effort.

In Today’s Tennessean, there are some important articles written by some of these leaders like Avi Poster of the Jewish Federation of Nashville, Jaynee Day, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, and Rev. Sonnye Dixon of Hobson United Methodist Church.

The number of Tennesseans living in poverty is staggering. One out of every five children in Tennessee under age 12 is hungry, according to a report from Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. There are 258,456 who live in poverty in the 46 counties Second Harvest serves in Middle and West Tennessee.

The sad reality is that far too many children go to school and are trying to learn without necessary food. The challenge to break out of a life of poverty through education becomes even more difficult when the child is hungry. I certainly know how my concentration and disposition are affected when I haven’t eaten properly.

When we first agreed to join in the challenge, it was an interesting “idea” to talk about with friends. We talked about blowing our budget in the first few days, how the classmates at Hadiya’s school already teased her about her “sad” lunches,” how I would arrange for others to take me out to lunch to help my budget, and how our food budget might finally be under control for one week. There was plenty of banter and light talk about the idea.

That all changed on Sunday night when we started planning our meals for the week. That was the first reality check. We had to plan for the entire week. There would be no running back to the store multiple times a week. People living in poverty do not have the luxury of running all over town to different stores and on multiple occasions because of the cost of gas.

Considering our tight budget, we began listing what we wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were some “regular” items that never had a chance – ice cream, soft drinks and snack chips, for example. Then, my wife was outvoted when it came to her $8 organic coffee. She finally agreed to compromise and drink “other” coffee at half the cost.

The “Challenge” became real for us as a family when one family member demanded her own $21 rather than shopping and eating as a family on $63.

We went shopping last night with our list of items and a strategy to keep $10 of the $63 in “reserve.” We carefully compared prices of various brands and put items back on shelves as we saw more critical needs.

We forlornly looked at other “favorites” as we passed them by. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to shop with small children as our basket was pretty boring. It had only the bare necessities, with the exception of my wife’s coffee. (I should note that I am a serious coffee drinker, drinking 4-5 cups a day from my coffee pot in my office. However, to be fair, I will be deprived of this luxury because I cannot afford to purchase coffee to brew a pot of coffee in my office. Staff should be warned when the headaches start.)

We came away spending $56.23 with $6.77 in “reserve” for later in the week. (I still need to buy mayonnaise and popcorn). Other than two cans of tuna, the only meat in our shopping cart was a small package of turkey for Hadiya’s lunches.

It also became real when we felt the pain of scanning the items through the self-service checkout, seeing the total grow, and then paying cash. I think paying cash just reinforced the “pain” of a limited budget you don’t feel when using a debit card, credit card, or a check. At one point, I made a mistake entering the code for the tomatoes. If we hadn’t caught the mistake, we would have spent $1.13 more than we should have.

We walked out of the store with a significant lasting impression. This takes hard work, planning and more knowledge than we currently have about eating economically without sacrificing nutrition. It created additional stress for us as a family. We didn’t go skipping merrily out of the store. We knew that we would be facing even more stress as the food ran out when we needed more items but no more money.

We will be able to make it for one week. But, that shopping trip alone gave us a better understanding of what people in poverty go through week after week.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big Night

"If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: thou shalt not ration justice."

Justice Learned Hand

October 18, 2007

Each year, the Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) hosts a dinner and awards presentation to honor area nonprofits for their commitment to management excellence. The awards recognize nonprofits for a job well done, and they reinforce the importance of effective leadership in the nonprofit sector. Last night, there were more than 1,000 people in attendance at this very important event.

LAS was a finalist for two awards: (1) CEO of the Year (Ashley!); and (2) Excellence in Communications.

Before the dinner, I was joking with Ashley about whether I really wanted him to win CEO of the year. After all, if he won, that just put more pressure on me as his successor.

The winner of the Excellence in Communication Award was the first to be announced and LAS was joined with two other great organizations as finalists, Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity and Nashville Area Red Cross.

LAS won!

This is a testament to the vision of Ashley, our board, community advisory council, community education staff, the Bradford Group, and all our staff. However, the award wouldn’t happen unless people do the work of developing the information, following through with requests, and working together. It truly was a team award and will be an inspiration to all of us to work hard

In connection with this award, I want to emphasize several points. The work of Jeff Bradford, Mike Reed and the staff of the Bradford Group was essential to making this happen. It is obvious they have a heart and passion for our work. They have been instrumental in assisting us in communicating our messages to our communities.

Secondly, Rae Anne Seay, our grant writer, has made a tremendous contribution to our organization. She wrote the nomination that made us all look great. The work is important, but so is communicating what has been done.

Thirdly, Adinah Robertson and Bev Adcock of our community education section have been so important in teaching us how to communicate our legal information to our client in a manner that will empower them. As I mentioned in my remarks, we cannot meet the overwhelming needs of our clients and handle all the cases. Justice does feel like it is being rationed. But, we do not have to ration out important information to our clients. They can use this information to obtain justice. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.

This award was the product of the guidance and work of our Board and the Community Advisory Council (CAC). Beginning in 2004, the CAC began discussing the importance of hiring a public relations firm. This suggestion was presented to the Board and the Bradford Group was selected in 2005. After a recommendation from the CAC to hire a grant writer, in 2006 the Board discussed and moved forward with that recommendation. LAS hired Rae Anne and we all know what her work has meant to our organization. It is this type of vision and input from the CAC and the Board that is essential for our organization. We are grateful for their time and wisdom.

Finalists for CEO of the year included Hal Cato from Oasis Center and Nancy West of the Siloam Family Health Center, two truly outstanding leaders of great organizations in our community. Ashley Wiltshire was named the winner!

Ashley gave a wonderful speech (we were limited to 45 seconds) as he acknowledged the hard work of all of the staff, the board, and advisory council. Once again, knowing that Ashley would not even consider writing up something about himself, it was Rae Anne who put together the nomination narrative that highlighted Ashley’s leadership and, just as importantly, the work of LAS.

LAS was the only “double winner” of the night and I wish all of the staff and our supporters could have been there to experience the appreciation we all felt. There are so many wonderful nonprofit organization delivering necessary services in our communities and it was an honor to just be a finalist in these two categories. It was a reminder that people look up to us and are counting on us. We have done well but there is much work to be done.

I hope that when they read this they can sit back and smile, feel good about what they are a part of, and feel renewed about what great things we are going to do together.

We have both trophies on display at the front desk and Ashley has agreed (with Susan’s consent) to let us “borrow” it for a little while until it is returned to the “Wiltshire trophy case”.

After the presentations, I mentioned to people about what great things I have been able to do in less than three months as Executive Director with the winning of these two awards! Of course, I had absolutely nothing to do with these awards but gladly accepted all the accolades. That is what executive directors do, right?

In my acceptance speech I expressed my appreciation to our staff who have produced the “success stories” of clients receiving justice. But, most importantly, I am grateful to the inspiration that we receive from the character and lives of our clients. They motivate us to obtain justice for them. If they are able to receive justice, they also receive hope. We want to deliver justice, we want to give them hope.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Promise of Justice

What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before.

Mark Twain

I really enjoy a good quote or a good speaker. I admire how someone can succinctly use words to communicate a powerful message. I will scramble for a pen and paper to write down what was said so that I can share it. I do not have this gift, which is why my family refers to me, I hope affectionately, as “the Babbler”.

There is an annual statewide Equal Justice Conference organized through the hard work of the staff at the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) and the Tennessee Bar Association. More than 200 lawyers, advocates, administrative staff, and support staff from Legal Aid Society and other public interest advocacy organizations attended the conference. It is a time to renew friendships, to learn, and to recharge spirits with the energy to pursue justice.

The highlight of the first day is a dinner with a keynote speaker. Ashley Wiltshire, Jr., former Executive Director of LAS, was the keynote speaker and provided inspirational words to all of us. As I sat there and listened to him, it made me feel greater appreciation for what he has done and inspired me to carry it forward.

The next day we were fortunate to have the President of the Tennessee Bar Association, Marcia Eason, join us for the lunch. Marcia practices law in Chattanooga, so everyone appreciated the effort it took to be there. In addition to her presentation, Marcia titled her “President’s Perspective” column in the October 2007 Tennessee Bar Journal “Low-income Tennesseans Get Legal Help, But it’s Not Enough.”

She emphasized how important it is for private attorneys to provide pro bono legal services or contribute to help fund pro bono programs. It gives hope to legal aid programs and to poor people when they see a leader in the legal community make equal justice such an important message.

Later, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark delivered the luncheon address titled “Passing the Torch-Assuring the Promise of Justice.” Again, traveling to Manchester took effort and Justice Clark made it very clear why she made the effort. Delivering the promise of justice is her dream. She closed her speech with a call to all of us to persevere in the fight. She shared that it was her dream that the light of equal access to justice would be passed to all persons who need it.

As people left that luncheon, you could feel the energy of community and perseverance. You could feel the energy of hope.