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stand­ing in the le­gal world. “Sta­tis­ti­cally, Black lawyers are of­ten ei­ther sole prac­ti­tion­ers or em­ployed in gov­ern­ment,” she says, mean­ing most at­ten­dees weren’t hired by pri­vate prac­tices (and so wouldn’t be work­ing on Re­mem­brance Day).

“What be­gan as a gath­er­ing at my home turned into a safe place to have dis­cus­sions and cel­e­brate our vic­to­ries,” says Dwyer. To­gether, the women ad­dressed the unique chal­lenges they face in white-dom­i­nated spa­ces—ev­ery­thing from peo­ple touch­ing their hair to walk­ing into court and be­ing mis­taken for the stenog­ra­pher.

That day’s meet­ing left Dwyer and her peers crav­ing more. “Soon, women were con­tact­ing me and ask­ing when we could do it again,” she says. In re­sponse, she founded the Black Fe­male Lawyers Net­work that same year and turned the in­for­mal meet-up into an an­nual re­treat and fundraiser for Black and Indige­nous law stu­dents.

Cur­rently in its 11th year, the gath­er­ing, now called Sis­tahs-in-Law, hosts more than 100 at­ten­dees who are com­mit­ted to the ad­vance­ment of Black women. “We want to am­plify the voices of Black fe­male lawyers,” says Dwyer. “We want to ad­vo­cate for an in­clu­sive pro­fes­sion.” To that end, at each edi­tion, 10 On­tario high­school stu­dents (“Lit­tle Sis­tahs”) from un­der­priv­i­leged back­grounds are paired with “Big Sis­tahs” to re­ceive men­tor­ship.

Ac­cord­ing to Shaneka Shaw

Tay­lor, a 34-year-old civil lit­i­ga­tor and the vice-pres­i­dent and trea­surer of the Black Fe­male Lawyers Net­work, Dwyer’s ef­forts have helped change lives. “When I started out in the pro­fes­sion, be­fore I even got a job, I reached out to her,” says Tay­lor. “Ever since, Denise has been the first per­son I call when I have an is­sue.”

Tay­lor main­tains that Dwyer’s im­pact stretches be­yond the le­gal field: “She em­pow­ers young girls and women to ex­cel in all their en­deav­ours, pro­vid­ing con­nec­tions and op­por­tu­ni­ties for her mentees to be­come in­volved in com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives,” she says.

Re­flect­ing not only on the fu­ture of Sis­tahs-in-Law but of Canada at large, Dwyer be­lieves fur­ther change is imperative. “We have cen­sus data that tells us we are a highly di­verse so­ci­ety,” she says, point­ing to cities such as Markham, Ont., where more than 70 per cent of res­i­dents are peo­ple of colour. But she notes that pro­fes­sional fields, such as law and medicine, aren’t mir­ror­ing those sta­tis­tics. The Black Fe­male Lawyers Net­work is about fos­ter­ing progress within an in­dus­try that has re­mained static, de­spite a chang­ing de­mo­graphic. Each year the or­ga­ni­za­tion grows, it moves a few steps closer to that goal.

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