President's Message - November 2021

Women, Power, and Leadership

Mary McKelvey

WLALA President 2021-2022

November has always been a month of gratitude for me.  No matter what is going on in my life, I stop to count and contemplate my many blessings. The exercise is always inspirational and fulfilling, as the things I focus on seem to seem to expand as I acknowledge and appreciate these gifts. 

To begin with, I was fortuitously born into a country where I enjoy basic and fundamental freedoms.  As a woman in the U.S., I have the freedom to make the choices that govern my life and to speak out freely both in support of those ideals I support and against those I do not.  Seeing the plight of our sisters in Afghanistan has increased my appreciation of the freedom to exercise my own power simply by virtue of having been born into this particular province of the planet.  While our country is by no means a perfect one, I believe in its promise of freedom and dignity for all people—women and girls included.  This promise is necessarily premised on our rule of law.  I am grateful for my legal education that permits me to understand and navigate our legal system.    

Critical areas of division and fear have been revealed in our country during the past couple of years, but the flip side is that more people than ever before have a clearer comprehension of the true history of racism in our country and how it is currently manifested.  I find myself faced with the challenge and opportunity of how to integrate my own new awareness into meaningful action and allyship.    

A wise woman once told me: “If you don’t see it, then you gotta be it.” This was prompted in response to a complaint I voiced about the lack of female representation in a certain arena.  That simple statement, issued as both a truth and a challenge, shifted my perception from that of a critical observer to invested participant.  I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I am committed to living as an invested participant in this world I occupy. 

All of this leads squarely to the question of individual social responsibility—i.e., what personal responsibility do each of us have to our community?   It is an intensely personal question and the answer for me changes as I mature and evolve.  I am grateful to have an education, an analytical mind, a compassionate heart, and skills for advocacy.  These are assets that can be used to create and foster change—and I believe I have some obligation to use them to give back to world that has given me so much. 

I am increasingly grateful for the remarkable women in my life—those I’ve known for decades and those with whom I’ve forged bonds with more recently.  It is the interactions with extraordinary women that keep me motivated and inspired in all aspects of my life.  And, speaking of amazing women, I wish to salute and congratulate Lisa McLean on her installation as President of our sister organization Black Women Lawyers (“BWL”), and thank her for extending the invitation to the exclusive BWL 46th Annual Installation & Awards Dinner & Gala to me and WLALA President-Elect Janet Hong.  We attended the magical rooftop celebration in Marina del Rey for a powerful evening celebrating courage and accomplishment, and contemplated new opportunities for WLALA to collaborate and support BWL’s missions and goals.

Congratulations also to new incoming Latina Lawyers Bar Association (“LLBA”) President Lucero Chávez.  I was privileged to attend our sister organization, LLBA’s virtual gala, filled with music, inspiration, and joy.  We look forward to working together this upcoming year to create more opportunities and conversations through collaborating with our LLBA sisters.  The opportunity to work together with our sister bars is one of the most energizing of my WLALA presidency.    

I am grateful to have some ability to remain teachable and open to opinions of others.  One of the most significant conversations I had this year was with a stranger on an airplane. It quickly became apparent during our initial exchange that our political beliefs were quite different. But, this man and I cautiously, yet determinedly, explored several potentially volatile topics.  As we became more confident that we could proceed with the discussion intelligently and safely, the conversation progressed to politics and our differences of opinion.  I learned more from this conversation with this man with whom I disagreed on most important issues than I have in any other conversation in a long time and I was reminded of the importance and value of listening and responding rather than reacting.  We both walked away with a bit more insight into the “other side” and an appreciation for the value of intelligent discourse regardless of our differences.

While this has been a year-and-a-half of unique and strange challenges, it has also been a year of deep contemplation and revelation.  I am more appreciative than ever for the love that exists in my family—I have been fortunate insofar as it has prevailed and allowed us to rise above and stay connected despite our differences.  I am thankful for the space that this pandemic has created to identify and recommit to those things that are most important to me.  The key to right living is to ensure I am living my life in accordance with my own ideals despite all of the distractions the world offers. I especially appreciate the opportunity to lead WLALA this year.  My challenge to myself and to all of you is that we live our gratitude—the truest expression of gratitude is action and when we do it together, remarkable things happen.