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OBA Diversity Awards 2018

By Telana McCullough

The OBA Diversity Committee is set to host its annual Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Awards Dinner Oct. 18, 2018, in Oklahoma City. The event will feature a keynote address from Susan Carns Curtiss. Ms. Curtiss is the founder of Girl Attorney LLC, a national organization that works to advance, promote, support and encourage women in the legal profession and beyond. The event will also feature a special presentation by Professor Cheryl Wattley. Professor Wattley is the author of A Step Toward Brown v. Board of Education: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and Her Fight to End Segregation and I’ll Do It, a play about Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and the fight for civil rights.

The Diversity Committee will honor six individuals and organizations with the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Diversity Award in recognition of their efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion in Oklahoma.

To attend the dinner, visit www.okbar.org/diversityawards/dinner.

AWARD RECIPIENTS

Member of the Judiciary

Judge Lydia Y. Green
Judge Lydia Y. Green was appointed to the 7th Judicial District, State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma County on Feb. 132017, as a special judge. She was born and raised in Dallas and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from Texas Tech University and her J.D. from the OCU School of Law.

Prior to being appointed to the bench, Judge Green was in private practice with a focus primarily in the areas of family law, juvenile law and criminal defense. Simultaneously, she served as the staff attorney for the Metropolitan Fair Housing Council of Oklahoma Inc. with an emphasis on civil rights discrimination. During her tenure with Metropolitan Fair Housing, she partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to advocate for victims of housing discrimination.

Judge Green is actively involved in her community. She currently serves as an executive board member for the OCU School of Law and The Metropolitan Fair Housing Council of Oklahoma Inc. From 2014 to 2017, she served as vice president of the Association of Black Lawyers Inc. In addition, she has served as a volunteer with Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, the Selection Committee for Habitat for Humanity and is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

Attorneys

Betsy G. Jackson
Betsy G. Jackson is a shareholder at Hall Estill where she practices securities, business transactions, commercial finance, mergers and acquisitions and real estate. She received her undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University and her J.D. from the TU College of Law. She is past chair of Hall Estill’s Recruitment & Diversity Committee, as well as the Associate Review Committee.

She is involved as a volunteer in the Tulsa community. Ms. Jackson is the current executive vice chair and incoming president of the Board of Directors for Tulsa CARES, an organization committed to creating a community where all people with HIV/AIDS have equal opportunities for healthy living. In addition, she and her husband, Gerry, served as co-chairs of the 2018 Red Ribbon Gala.

Further, she serves as vice-chair for the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women where she was instrumental in the development of the Female Incarceration Action Plan (May 2016). The plan was a road map designed to identify gaps in services and programs available to women in Oklahoma incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. In addition, she serves as vice chair of the Board of Directors
for the Tulsa Area United Way.

Rep. Emily Virgin
Rep. Emily Virgin was born and raised in Norman. She attended OU where she worked as an equipment manager for the OU football team. She graduated magna cum laude from OU in 2009 with a degree in political science and a minor in criminology. Rep. Virgin was also selected as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. 

She began law school at the OU College of Law in the fall of 2009 and was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in November 2010. She serves on the Appropriations & Budget, Judiciary, Public Safety and Higher Education committees in the House of Representatives and is the Minority Caucus chair. She graduated with honors from OU law in 2013 and was a member of the Oklahoma Law Review.

Rep. Virgin is also active in numerous organizations in her community. She is a past board member of the Thunderbird Clubhouse, an organization in Norman serving those with mental health issues, and Dreamer Concepts, a nonprofit art gallery. She is a current board member of the Norman Arts Council and Bridges, nonprofit organization that serves homeless teens in Norman.

She was named the Legislator of the Year in 2015 by Freedom Oklahoma, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, and has twice received the Distinguished Service Award from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. 

Organizations

Girl Attorney LLC
Girl Attorney LLC exists for women attorneys to advance, promote, support and encourage one another. Though the focus of the community is about being working women, generally, and the practice of law, specifically, the community is welcome to both those that do, and do not, practice law.

In the fall of 2010, Susan Carns Curtiss noticed the need for an organization of this kind after being the only female attorney at her law office and one of the few female attorneys in larger legal networks. She searched the internet for a supportive community for working women but could not find one.

Over the next several years, considerable thought, research, observations, experiences and conversations contributed to the development of the context of Girl Attorney LLC brand as a whole. She is fundamentally committed to providing a forum for a community of support and encouragement to women attorneys across the globe.

Metropolitan Fair Housing Council of Oklahoma Inc.
Since 1979, the Metropolitan Fair Housing Council Inc. (MFHC) has served as the only full-service, 501(c)(3) private nonprofit, qualified fair housing enforcement and advocacy organization in Oklahoma. MFHC provides free fair housing enforcement and legal resources to alleged victims of housing discrimination, responds to consumer complaints of unfair treatment from the housing industry, conducts free fair housing/fair lending education and outreach training for consumers, housing providers, attorneys, public and private organizations and conducts counseling and mediation services to promote equal housing opportunity.

Oklahoma People First
Established in 1988, Oklahoma People First Inc. (OPF) is a self-advocacy organization serving people with intellectual disabilities and is the first statewide nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization run for and by people with intellectual disabilities. Living by the motto, “Nothing About Us, Without Us,” OPF’s mission is to “promote equality; assist each other in speaking for ourselves; educate self-advocates; and to support self-advocacy activities in Oklahoma.”

Currently, with 13 active chapters across the state, OPF serves as a powerful voice concerning disability issues at the national, state and local levels. Self-advocates work to educate others on the stigma of the label “mental retardation” and have participated in the “Getting Rid of the ‘R’ Word” campaign. OPF was also instrumental in getting the Oklahoma Respectful Language Act passed to remove the term mental retardation from state legislation and policies. Numerous OPF members were active advocates in closing the last two state institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

OPF hosts Developmental Disability Awareness Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, which gives self-advocates the opportunity to meet and educate legislators. OPF teaches self-advocates how to listen and learn and encourages them to form their own opinions on candidates and legislation. OPF is dedicated to training and registering voters with disabilities.

OPF coordinates the Oklahoma Self-Advocacy Network (OKSAN), a state advocacy action partnership. This partnership has allowed for the development of peer-training, such as Self-Advocate Leadership Training, Emergency Preparedness and Taking Control of Your Heath. Trainings have been conducted across the state and at national conferences. Members of OPF serve as both the developers and trainers. OPF has also developed disability awareness trainings that have been presented across the state to provider agencies and civic groups.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Telana McCullough chairs the OBA Diversity Committee and works for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 89 pg. 52 (October 2018)