Minority Mentoring Picnic draws hundreds of students Minority Mentoring Picnic draws hundreds of students Jan Pudlow Senior Editor What elevates a picnic to a happening with high purpose?When a thousand picnickers are a veritable who’s-who list of Florida’s legal elite mingling with minority law students from all over the state hoping to snag a mentor.Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah on October 1 was the place to be for the Second Minority Mentoring Picnic, and its creator, Miami lawyer John Kozyak, deemed it a smashing success. He estimated at least 300 law students came from the University of Florida, Florida State University, Florida A&M University, Stetson University, Nova Southeastern, Florida International, St. Thomas, and the University of Miami. Ready to engage those students in conversation were at least 50 judges and about 450 lawyers (and their families), including law school deans, law firm hiring partners, and members of The Florida Bar leadership.“I don’t want to say it was like a Beatles concert or the World Series, but in terms of organized bar functions, I had people tell me it was one of the best things they’d ever been to,” Kozyak said.Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno was surrounded by a laughing throng of law students.Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince sought out students, wearing color-coded tags, for congenial pep talks to succeed in law school and future jobs.“It was a great opportunity for lawyers to give back to our community in the form of helping young people coming through law school. I tell you, it was fantastic!” said Justice Quince, who said she wishes she had had a mentor going through law school.“Good food, good times, and good people,” Quince said. “We’ve got some really bright people in law school. I’m feeling really good about the legal profession.”Florida Bar President Alan Bookman was in the crowd serving as a credible reminder that the Bar is serious about diversifying the legal profession.“It was a happening,” Bookman said. “It was really good. It was well-attended. There were minority law students, minority lawyers, judges, lawyers — a great bonding experience. It was just a fun party, is what it was.”Make that a fun party — despite some rain showers — pumped up with volleyball and football games and jazzed up with Caribbean music deejayed by Miami lawyer and former Cuban-American Bar Association President Marlon Hill, who interjected light-hearted commentary on who he spotted in the crowd.Legal luminaries rolled up their sleeves and served up great food.Hovering over a roasted pig for six hours in the Cuban tradition was Miami lawyer Ramon Abadin, immediate past president of CABA, while other members stirred a big pot of paella.“This event has opened a lot of doors and made a lot of connections for law students,” Abadin said. “To have students talking to Peggy Quince having a Coke gives them a true sense of belonging. Not to quote Mastercard, but that’s priceless.”Robert Vaughn, past president of the Caribbean Bar Association, provided jerk chicken. Add to the gastronomical array: arroz con pollo, barbecue, and roasted lamb. And don’t forget the soul food. Lisa Lehner even flew in bratwurst from Wisconsin.And the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, along with the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers, satisfied everyone’s sweet tooth with an abundance of desserts.One image from the picnic that really stands out, said Miami lawyer Detra Shaw-Wilder, was watching Dade County Judge Fred Seraphin, Florida’s only Haitian-American judge, bring goat meat and man the hamburger and hotdog grill.“He left the grill and was holding court with seven or eight students, talking, and they were standing there eagerly listening to him, really connecting. That’s what the picnic is all about. His heart is in the right place,” said Shaw-Wilder, Kozyak’s partner, credited with putting her organizational muscle to work to coordinate logistics.“I am a black woman attorney,” she said. “I just share John’s vision and passion that we should give back to the community. Instead of sitting around talking about the lack of diversity and having surveys, we need to reach out to individual students to help them be successful. If you are important in the legal profession, you were probably at the picnic.”The picnic’s networking opportunities really work, says Marcy Cox, assistant dean of career planning at the UM School of Law, recounting a mentoring relationship sparked at last year’s picnic that ended up in a real job for a law student clerking at a firm.“It’s a tremendous opportunity for students,” Cox said. “John (Kozyak) said the best way to create a diverse workforce in a legal marketplace is to make sure diverse students are supported early on. Students wouldn’t be able to interact with Supreme Court justices, federal judges, state court judges, and prominent attorneys in a social setting otherwise,” Cox said.And 27-year-old Joycelyn Brown is one first-year UM law student who called the experience “absolutely wonderful.”She went to the picnic to find a mentor, and she left with a mentor.“It exceeded my expectations. The Black Law Students Association is how I heard about the picnic, and they pushed us to go, saying, ‘You never know who you can meet,’” recounted Brown, who has a degree in engineering and is interested in intellectual property law.Kozyak introduced Brown to Lauren Bercuson, whose firm specializes in intellectual property law.“Joycelyn and I talked for a while and hit it off,” Bercuson said. “As we were talking, I realized that although I have little experience as a practicing attorney, I would certainly be able to help Joycelyn navigate her way through the challenges of law school, internships, and the job application process — all things I had just completed myself. Joycelyn and I have since been in touch and we are getting together for dinner this week.”Perhaps the picnic’s success was best summed up in an e-mail from Miami lawyer Brian Tannebaum, on the board of directors of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, sent to Kozyak the day after the picnic:“I was proud yesterday to be a lawyer in a community that attracted our colleagues from throughout the state to see what can happen when we take off our suits and robes, put our briefs and motions away, and don shorts and sneakers, all to meet some great kids,” Tannebaum wrote.“I personally now have four mentees — one young lady graduating UM who is interested in the public defender’s office, and three students from Stetson in St. Petersburg, my alma mater. So I thank you, John, for showing all of us the greatness of unity.” November 1, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News
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