claire_nelson.jpgAs the first Jamaican woman to earn a doctorate in an engineering discipline and the only black in her graduating class, Claire Nelson’s commitment to excellence was exactly what The Caribbean Bar Association had in mind when the lawyers group began recognizing Caribbean Americans at an annual awards banquet several years ago.

Nelson will be among honorees Oct. 2 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood picked by the association founded by three attorneys to recognize the accomplishments of Caribbean-American attorneys, while also pushing for positive change throughout South Florida.

Jerry Hamilton, Neil DeLeon and A. Wayne Gill founded the association in 1994. The voluntary bar organization has grown from 25 to more than 150 attorneys in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Jamaican Cherine Smith Valbrun, an attorney at Ward Kim Vaughan &  Lerner in Fort Lauderdale has been heading the group for the past year. Her term ends this month.

Besides advocating for Caribbean-American lawyers in South Florida, she said, the organization promotes greater awareness of and commitment to the civil and political rights of the Caribbean-American community.

To that end, she said, the group helped people from South Florida’s Caribbean-American community obtain Temporary Protected Status over the past several months, and will host another TPS session on Oct. 16. The CBA was also active in raising funds to assist Haiti as the nation recovers from the January earthquake.

Valbrun said the gala’s theme, “To Refresh, Renew and Recommit,” has been evident in the group’s activities throughout the community this year. The CBA completed a beautification project at Global Academy in Miami’s Little Haiti, which caters mainly to Caribbean-American youth, by refurbishing two of its elementary classrooms and the school’s hallways.

Helping to increase diversity in the legal profession is another priority for the CBA. One avenue for doing so is through the organization’s Minority Clerkship Program.  This year, the CBA awarded a $1,500 stipend to Rain Jarrett, a former law student at Florida International University’s College of Law.  As a part of the program, Jarrett was able to clerk at the Broward County Circuit Court.

The organization also offers mentoring opportunities for Caribbean-American law students, a process that will be simplified with its new website.

“We’re going to be unveiling our website [at the gala,] which will allow law students who are members of our organization to go online, sign up… indicate the area of law they’re interested in and we will work to find them an attorney who might be a good fit,” Valbrun said.

The banquet will be emceed by the CBA past president Marlon Hill and Neki Mohan, WPLG Channel 10 reporter.

Photo: Claire Nelson