February 29, 2024

A Commitment to Community: The Black Affinity Group's Mission and Impact

Black History Month Spotlight Series

Holland & Knight's Diversity Council and Black Affinity Group are proud to celebrate Black History Month and honor the generations of Black Americans who have enriched our nation's history and continue advancing progress. Throughout the month of February, we took time to speak with some of our Black attorneys, who shared their personal stories and journeys. It is through open discussions that we work to create an equitable environment where all lawyers are able to achieve their full potential. We hope you will join us in learning from these impactful conversations.

In this video, Black Affinity Group Co-Chairs Leila Batties and Loren Forrest share their experiences and backgrounds, which shaped who they are today. Hear their firsthand accounts on creating an inclusive community that empowers diverse voices through relationship-building and highlighting members' achievements.

Leila Batties: My family background really represents the diverse, rich stories and background of Black Americans, including their contributions to American history. Both of my parents are the descendants of Black American soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American War, and when the war ended in 1898, hundreds of Black Americans who were in the Philippines opted to stay there rather than return home and suffer the racism and injustice in the United States. So these black soldiers worked and met their wives and raised their families in the Philippines. My family, my children and I celebrate my culture at random and our everyday lives. Just something simple like music. When I was growing up, music was always playing in the background at home, especially jazz and so many of the great jazz vocalist standards. My parents also regularly went to listen to live music. So I wanted to make sure that my children have the same level of exposure and appreciation for music. So they both started playing piano at a very early age and were taught jazz and standards that I heard around the house growing up. And so every once in a while I have them play for me.

Loren L. Forrest Jr.: A lot of stuff was ingrained in me by my parents about black pride, black history, and I was always taught like, look, you come from the people of struggle and people who sacrificed and given, you know, including your own parents, right? They always start with them, to get you what you got, and you might need to sacrifice for someone else. So I have a huge feeling of indebtedness, to all of those people who come before me, meaning starting with my parents and my family and older people and people right in this firm, from Tiffani Lee and other people in our firm, Kelly-Ann Cartwright and all the other black folks who came before me. I became a lawyer to help other people and to advise them. I do it in more of a corporate sense, but I think of justice, right? I think, like, what's fair, and to me, obviously, we should all have equal rights, the things that we don't. So to me, as a black person, I always look for fairness, justice, equity and sort of a corny thing, but like DEI, literally diversity, equity, inclusion. How can we diversify things? How can we make sure everyone's equality, how we make sure everyone's included? I think that's the way we all need to look at things.

Leila Batties: I'm starting my third year as co-chair of the Black Affinity Group, and as co-chair of the Black Affinity Group, I primarily want the members to feel that they are part of a strong network of colleagues who, collectively, are vested in each other's professional success and positive experience at the firm. I hope we accomplish this in a number of ways, including partners being active mentors to associates, programing and activities that are focused on the development and retention of associates, and highlighting the achievements of those within the group not only to recognize their efforts, but also to inform and inspire others.

Loren L. Forrest Jr.: We're all trying to make Holland & Knight a better place for black attorneys. But I think that all attorneys, quite frankly, of color, and different ethnic and religious persuasions to feel comfortable and have a safe place to work and to even network amongst each other on, I'd say a professional and a personal place. We like to say that we're a safe place, that people can talk about things and listen to each other's problems. Those could be professional, those could be social, those can be personal. We want to make, you know, Holland & Knight, a better place to work for black attorneys in particular. But for all people, I think, of color and for all attorneys. So we can all, I think, better share our experiences with others and better understand how our experiences are impacting others.

Leila Batties: Right now, our membership is 100 people, ranging from including equity partners, law clerks, senior partners, non-equity partners. So we have a robust affinity group. And we also have 41 associates in the Black Affinity Group that are paired with mentors.

Loren L. Forrest Jr.: The more progress I see, the more that makes me feel good. And I would say people keep working. You don't know what progress will happen in your lifetime. I did not think when I was a kid we would ever have a black president. I thought we would, that would not be possible. So to see that makes me think legitimately is a real hope, for racial progress in our country and within our firm.

Leila Batties: If I had to share some advice with youth that have big dreams, I would say that there are many paths to success and happiness and be open to the opportunities and on your path. Strive to be and represent the best version of yourself. And oftentimes, if things seem unfair, they probably are. But know that so many people have overcome so much to achieve and make a difference. So I would just say to remain encouraged and remain focused.

Loren L. Forrest Jr.: I would just implore everyone to be confident in what they say and, and be there as much of the authentic selves as they feel they can be. Because it's hard being two different people, one at work and one at home all the time.

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