Florida Bar gets its first Black leader

caines | 6/27/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Eugene Pettis to assume the helm at groups annual convention The Florida Bar will make history on Friday, June 28th when Eugene K. Pettis, Esq., becomes the first Black to head the 63-year-old organization. He will become the Bars 65th president during a swearing-in ceremony at its annual convention at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Pettis, a founding partner of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm and native of Fort Lauderdale, was sworn in as president-elect at the Bars annual convention last June. In an earlier interview with The Miami Times, Pettis shared his views about being elected to the highest office of the Florida Bar the countrys second-largest bar with a membership of just over 95,000 lawyers. It is an honor and privilege to lead this organization and to be recognized by my colleagues the 95,000 lawyers in the state that are members of the Florida Bar, he said. I am proud that we have finally broken the race barrier as it is clear that we have waited way too long and ignored quality people of color who were able and worthy to serve but were not allowed. I am glad we are on the brink of removing one of the barriers but there are many others that must follow like gender.

Getting on track with help from his mother

Pettis earned his bachelors degree in political science from the University of Florida [UF] in 1982 and then received his Juris Doctorate from UFs Levin College of Law in 1985. But his future could have gone in more negative direction. When he was a sixth grader, he was beaten by two white male teachers who hit him 67 times with a leather strap. The incident, he says, was psychologically damaging and extremely difficult to overcome. It put me on an incline of racial discrimination and hatred, he said. As he entered high school, he faced possible suspension after getting into several fisticuffs just two weeks into his freshman year. According to Pettis, it was his mothers prayers that were instrumental in getting him back on the right track. He began doing better in his classes, became captain of the basketball team and eventually made his way to college. Education is the great equalizer, he said. What you gain with it, no one can take from you. But Pettis has done more than just talk about the importance of education. He has become a respected leader in Broward County, serving on a host of boards and working with several non-profit organizations. Along with his wife, Sheila, he has donated more than $1 million to his alma mater. Their most recent gift was an endowment for the Black Law Student Association. He says that as president of the Bar, he plans to address several tasks that are not specifically part of his job description including mentoring young attorneys and advocating for a better public education system. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and when I visit the jails, I often run into old friends or classmates, he said. When we allow young boys to fail and not complete school, we are providing the perfect pipeline to the prison system. Its time that Black professionals commit themselves to ending this cycle. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com