Being elected president of the Cook County Bar Association is no small feat. Dartesia Pitts holds the distinction of being the youngest woman to hold the position. We spoke to her recently about why she became a lawyer, how Chicago helped to shape her and we found out what her superpower is.
Tell us a little about yourself and what motivated you to become a lawyer.
I am a native of Chicago, born and raised. Growing up, I noticed that my family and community needed more legal resources. I witnessed many wrongs committed without the access to legal remedies. Growing up, I did not know any lawyers. Claire Huxtable and Johnny Cochran were my reference points. This lack of access to justice really materialized immediately after I graduated from undergrad. I had a cousin who was charged and convicted of murder in Cook County when he was 19. There is a tragedy in the loss of life for sure. However, the other tragedy in this story was that my cousin and my family quickly realized that the criminal justice system is about how much justice you can afford. His mother was unable to afford legal representation from the initial arrest, a very critical time in fact-gathering. She later lost the representation she retained because she ran out of money. My cousin, even after his conviction and release, maintained his innocence. He served 15 years. This is one of the many reasons I decided to become an attorney. I always wanted to be there to help guide my family through the labyrinth known as the justice system.
Congratulations on being elected as president of the CCBA. What does it mean to you?
The Cook County Bar Association is the oldest association of Black lawyers and judges in the country, celebrating 103 years in 2017. Our organization did not elect our first woman president until 1978, nearly 64 years after our formal existence. Today, even after 103 years of service, I represent the 17th woman president of our association. To me, that means that in institutions predominantly controlled by men, women are still making strides to insert our narratives in leadership. It also means that I am honored to be added to the roll call of the many women who have contributed to the service, struggle and legacy of our association.
How would you describe your style of leadership?
Servant leadership is my style. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty, utilize all my resources and do whatever is necessary to get the work done. I have noticed that others appreciate the active role I have played when taking care of the needs of our profession and the community. I always ask first, how can I be of service and add value.
How does being from the South Side of Chicago inform your role?
Chicago is a very political town. The politics in Chicago start with the building of your network through solid relationships. This is very important. I pride myself on having built and maintained great, authentic relationships.
What is the legacy of the CCBA and how will you add value and continue to add to the legacy of such a storied organization?
“I come as one but I stand as 10,000” – Maya Angelou
There is a legacy of brilliant African American lawyers in our county and our country that have positioned themselves to break down barriers in every area of the law and beyond. One includes President Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States of America, who is a former member of the Cook County Bar Association. I want our community, specifically the African American community, to know that there are lawyers [who] look like them, live next door to them, have a similar background to them, [who] are speaking for them when they don’t realize it and can advocate on their behalf if they ever need them.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge has been ensuring that my voice as a young woman leader is heard in the male-dominated rooms that normally don’t want to hear what I have to say. It is far too often that women are still being disregarded for what they are bringing to the table especially when they are in positions of leadership.
What is your superpower?
One of my superpowers is the power of positive affirmations over others. I have a great ability to be your biggest cheerleader. It comes naturally to me. It is my belief that it is beneficial to speak about the positive that we see in others because sometimes they are unable to see it in themselves. If you see it and speak it, then they may speak it as well. Once you are able to positively affirm your own life, then nothing will stop you. Speak life over you and the people around you!
What words of encouragement do you have for those looking to follow a similar career path as you?
Seek out great mentors. There are people out there that want to see you succeed. Find them. Never give up. Be unafraid and never speak limits on you or anyone else.