WMU-Cooley Law School launched its virtual Inclusion and Belonging Book Club with Wayne County Circuit Court Administrator Zenell Brown, Esq., in honor of her book, “Coffee and Conversations: Inclusion and Belonging,” on June 22.
A champion of justice for all through diversity, equity, and inclusion, Brown melds her court leadership, crucial conversation, dispute resolution skills, and diversity skills. During the event, she gave a first-hand account of how there were times she felt excluded in the workplace and didn’t feel empowered as a Friend of the Court employee due to the culture and the insignificant role of diversity, equity and inclusion at that time.
“Service is not the middle name of the court and it really takes on the perspective, not of me being a victim of what I call microaggression or exclusions or subtle acts of exclusion, but it takes on the perspective of how organizations treat their customers,” said Brown. “The person who is providing the service really needs to have some connection, some awareness of the community that they are serving. The people who are in charge of the organizations have to ensure that that education and awareness is actually going on and be accountable to make sure that the culture you want is actually being created.”
Brown explained that she opens the book with the importance of having “ground rules” during these type of conversations “to bring down some of the angst and people jumping into the conversations talking about things they haven’t talked about and feeling uncomfortable in that respect.”
Throughout her book, which was published during the Covid pandemic in 2020, Brown also discusses the intentionality piece of inclusion.
“I’ve been able to tell you what it was like being a victim of being excluded or not feeling welcoming and included. I’ve been able to observe what it looks like from the customer’s perspective and share that,” she said. “But the intentionality piece is when I had to start looking at what was I doing? How was I not making sure people were included? What could I change in my everyday behaviors?
“One of the biggest things is that we can take DEI and divide it by politics, ideology and everything like that or we can take DEI and say it’s something that everybody has a role and a voice at the table,” Brown continued. “Oftentimes, it’s presented that if you talk about it, you’re trying to divide. That’s not the intent. We’re not trying to divide. We’re not trying to replace anybody. We’re not trying to give anyone an undue advantage. We’re trying to talk about how do we make sure that this country, this nation that says you’re welcome here and is the land of free opportunity, that we look to see what resources are needed so everybody can have that equal opportunity. It doesn’t leave anybody out of the conversations.”
As the leader of Michigan’s Third Circuit Court administrative operations and member of National Association of Women Judges, Brown has 20 years of experience and a daily practice in the arts of court leadership and inclusion. In 2022, Brown was awarded the American Bar Association’s Robert B. Yegge Award for outstanding contribution in judicial administration, and the National Association of Court Management’s Perkins Award for consistently going above and beyond the call of duty to make behind-the-scenes contributions in court administration.
The full Inclusion and Belonging Book Club launch can be viewed at WMU-Cooley’s Community Conversation Playlist on YouTube.