Bar Assn. Expands, Works with Nonprofits and Churches
By Dianne Anderson
The Thurgood Marshall Bar Association recently held its third annual installation and awards gala in honor of their namesake, America’s first Black Supreme Court justice, and to give scholarships in support of local law students.
Since starting their bar association in 2012, they are now one of the most recognized legal resources in the community
“We’re doing so many good things, said Rebekah Thomas, President-Elect of the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association. “We took a poll on what everybody wanted information on, and we decided to create monthly educational workshops on different topics.”
Last year, they reached out to the Orange County NAACP to let them know they were available, and willing to help. They are engaging several local African American based nonprofits and churches.
Of their many popular legal talking points, they have covered medical directives, estate planning, employee rights, housing rights, and family law.
Thomas said the past year has been so productive that she said they expect to expand soon to include lawyer referrals with their offerings. Community members can look forward to accessing educational resources, and also potentially connect with an attorney for assistance for legal services and representation.
While they don’t give out individual legal advice at community presentations, she usually hears some of the same concerns that come up more frequently than others.
She tries to connect individuals with an attorney to answer their questions.
“We always get questions from people about their rights. Employment rights are a huge one, labor claims and people who have issues with HR [human resources]. It’s all about getting people what they need,” she said.
Coming up this year, the bar will also host clinics with volunteer attorneys at various sites to provide legal advice and take on individual cases.
They also plan to provide services at multiple church locations. Last year, they held events at Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church. This year, they are looking forward to hosting at three of the biggest Black churches in Orange County, including COR, Second Baptist and Friendship Baptist.
“We’re going to try to locate the clinics every month to one of those three,” she said. “They [the community] come with whatever questions they have. Normally they tell us what their issue is so we can have the right attorneys there.”
Most importantly, she feels that the community can take comfort knowing they are not facing their challenges alone. It takes a village, and she said Black legal professionals are part of the village.
“One of the characteristics of the village is that they can rely on them, and go to them in times of need,” said Thomas, who specializes in real estate law and family law.
The bar association has been a featured monthly guest at the Orange County NAACP, where they host a one hour program before the start of regular branch meetings.
Dr. Fred Calhoun, branch president, said it has been a great benefit to their members.
Local branch meetings are held the second Saturday of every month from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Second Baptist Church, located at 4300 Westminster Avenue in Santa Ana.
Besides legal direction, Calhoun said the local branch is concerned about several other areas of need, including their new Crime, Punishment and Redemption committee, along with voter registration.
As discrimination complaints rise, he said their Crime, Punishment and Redemption committee chair, David Drakeford, has successfully addressed complaints.
Recently, the chapter helped one African American woman, who was being unfairly harassed to leave her apartment by her landlord.
“She was being mistreated, Black people were having problems,” Dr. Calhoun said. “I got the address, and I called the [headquarters] of the building apartments owned by a company in Texas.”
A week later, they returned the call to let Calhoun know they contacted the local apartment manager, and the issue was resolved. Another complaint came up when an African American woman had to quit her job because of the stress of discrimination. The chair of the local NAACP committee connected her with a lawyer.
“They were harassing her, putting up graffiti, and giving her a hard time, not treating her fairly and giving her more work than the others. David Drakefort called her, and met with her,” Calhoun said.
Complaints continue to roll in, but he said meetings are full and people are learning effective ways to deal with a variety of injustices.
“It’s more than I expected,” he said. “Now we have a full house of people, usually 35 to 40 come to the meeting. We think we’re going to have to try to get another bigger room.”
On Saturday, February 8, their next meeting covers voter suppression. Government representatives will bring voting machines out to teach the community how to vote. The event is open to the public.
“We’ve got a special committee going on, and we’re going to try to get people to work the polls as much as we can. We’re getting a bigger room for that because it’s open to the public, we think a lot of people are going to be here,” he said.
For more information on events, see www.naacp-oc.org <http://www.naacp-oc.org/>
And see, https://www.thurgoodmarshallbarassociation.org/