Pushing the Bar, Building a Profession that is Welcoming to All
The Bar Association of San Francisco in 1994
by Raymond C. Marshall, 1994 BASF President
It was an honor and privilege to serve as President of the Bar Association of San Francisco. I looked forward to the occasion and the opportunities it presented. The year was 1994, and I was fully cognizant that I would be the first Black President in BASF’s history. With that in mind, my goals were personal and simple:
- Continue the remarkable work BASF had done over the years to make itself the nation’s leading, local voluntary bar.
- Be true to myself and not be afraid to speak truth to power, even if my message made some uncomfortable, and others disagreed with the need and urgency of time for change.
- Open doors and promote the full integration of BASF and our San Francisco legal community, including our law firms, public agencies and courts for all San Francisco attorneys.
- Have fun, and welcome and enjoy the experiences ahead, along with the friends, supporters, colleagues and associates that had made BASF special to me.
Looking back, I think I was able to achieve what I sought to accomplish. Beginning with my inaugural speech, a right-of-passage all Presidents worry about and breathe a sigh of relief over when done. My remarks praised BASF for its new focus, commitment, leadership and accomplishments in addressing racial bias in the profession.
At the same time, however, supported by irrefutable data and life experiences, I stated clearly and unapologetically that Black attorneys in San Francisco, even partners in our City’s leading law firms, had to deal with racial bias and discriminatory treatment, on both a professional and personal level. To this day, I am humbled by the response to my speech. I felt truly heard.
During the course of my Presidency, we continued to push to make BASF a “Big Tent” bar association, welcoming to all. In addition to the Minorities Committee, we created, promoted and funded BASF’s Women’s Committee, Gay & Lesbian Committee and Disability Committee. BASF also affirmatively reached out to San Francisco’s local minority, women and specialty bar associations and became an active partner in San Francisco’s Minority Bar Coalition. Being true to my goal of having fun while doing good, BASF held a one-of-a-kind Soiree to raise funds to support the four Equality Committees. It was a special evening, complete with great attendance, setting, fashion, food, music and dancing.
It was also important to me that BASF reach out to the community of non-lawyers and speak to issues of public concern. An important vehicle by which we did so was through a series of Town Hall meetings, where we held open discussions and debates on a number of key issues of the day. Speakers on both sides of the issue debated immigration reform, gun violence, welfare reform, voting rights and hate speech. We also continued our pro bono and people’s work in the trenches through BASF’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, which became the largest legal services provider in San Francisco, along with its Homeless Advocacy Program, a problem which still confronts us today.
I am also proud that under the guidance and leadership of my dear friend and mentor, the iconic Dru Ramey, we also sought to spread BASF’s values of fairness, equality and mutual respect of individual and group differences. We didn’t always succeed, but we always fought the good fight to support and spread the vision of what a volunteer bar association could and should do to eliminate bias and discriminatory behavior in the profession and our country.
While the issues still exist, and the struggle remains, I am heartened by the fact that BASF continues to be a vocal, active and unwavering leader in defending its long established values, and our democratic principles of equal justice under the law for all.
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