Jamaican American Alison Smith has smashed a nearly century-old tradition in Florida's Broward Country Bar Association (BCBA), becoming the first black woman to be elected president since its founding in 1925.
Smith, an attorney and partner at leading law firm, Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Berman, was sworn in as Broward County Bar Association president-elect earlier this month and officially takes on the role in 2022.
“I'm beyond excited and consider it to be a privilege and an honour to represent the BCBA,” said Smith, who came home to Jamaica four times a year, to soak up the culture and enjoy her favourite ackee and saltfish, before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“As the first woman of colour to be president in our organisation's history, I take this position with the utmost seriousness and am humbled to lead BCBA,” said the affable Smith.
Braulio Rosa, the BCBA executive director was full of praise for Smith, describing her as “a smart, thoughtful and energetic leader who understands that a Bar association must manage a balance of business and service”.
Managing director of her law firm, Mitch Burnstein, said lawyers in Broward County would be well served by Smith at the BCBA adding that “those who work with her had seen her… commitment and passion when serving her clients”.
In her role as president, Smith will be in charge of an organisation comprising almost 4,000 members, 19 practice sections, 19 committees, and three affiliate organisations, which include the Association of South Florida Mediators and Arbitrators, the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida, and the North Dade Bar Association.
Smith was born in New York but at one-month-old was taken by her parents, Fay and Donald Smith, an attorney who practised in Black River, St Elizabeth, to Jamaica, where she grew up with her sisters, Meisha Smith-Coulter, also a lawyer and Dr Jessica Smith, a doctor.
She migrated to the United States in 1996 after graduating from the Manchester High School in Mandeville, Manchester, regarding herself as very Jamaican, even as she embraced her new home.
“I am extremely proud of my heritage and everyone who knows me here knows that I am an unofficial ambassador for Jamaica,” she told the Jamaica Observer in an interview from her Florida home.
Blessed with beauty and brains, Smith became the valedictorian of her law class at Nova Southeastern University, and graduated magna cum laude from the Shepard Broad College of Law at the university. Before law school, she earned a BSc in psychology with a minor in legal studies.
Smith delights in talking about her grandmother who will soon be celebrating her status as a centenarian and lives with her. The president-elect has been a vegetarian for 25 years and admits she wrote songs and dreamt of being a famous pop star like Mariah Carey. “I spend a lot of my time giving back to the community, and am especially concerned and interested in programming that benefits the Caribbean-American community. I am a past president of the Caribbean Bar Association and have created mentorship initiatives to benefit the minority student community,” she disclosed.
In 2018, Smith was the inspiration for one of the contestants, Deyon Callendar, in the annual Miss Jamaica Florida pageant. She went on to be crowned Miss Jamaica Florida.
“During the creative expressions portion of the pageant, Ms Callendar emulated me, performing a monologue that captured the spirit and essence of my personality. She excelled in this, and all other aspects of the pageant, and won the title,” Smith proudly recounted.
Smith began blazing trails when she became the first black woman to be named partner at her Hollywood, Florida, law firm, which had been in business for a quarter of a century. As an attorney, she advises municipalities on labour issues, litigating when necessary.
She is on the board of directors for legal aid and is a member of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers. Her legal practice is focused on labour and employment, municipal, appellate, and administrative and regulatory matters.
— Compiled by Kevin Wainwright and edited by Desmond Allen