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Published: Monday, 2/26/2007

Minority attorney makes a difference

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Yolanda Gwinn, a lawyer since 1984, gave up a career as a merchandiser to get a law degree. Yolanda Gwinn, a lawyer since 1984, gave up a career as a merchandiser to get a law degree.
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Yolanda Gwinn says she clearly remembers the moment she decided to abandon her budding fashion career and turn toward fighting discrimination.

She was working as a manager at a large, local department store and discovered that a white, male trainee was being paid more money than her - a black female in her 20s.

But instead of broaching the subject with a superior, which could have affected the paycheck the trainee brought home to his family, she decided to make a change in her own life.

So the Lima, Ohio, native went back to school and obtained her law degree from Ohio Northern University in 1983. This was after earning a bachelor's degree in merchandising from Kentucky State University in 1978 and a master's degree in education from Bowling Green State University.

"My original goal was to go back to fight all kinds of discrimination," she said, sitting on a cushy purple couch in the living room of her home in Sylvania

Township. "I didn't know what to do, but I thought God wanted me to work in legal services."

Ms. Gwinn, 50, is now a law clerk for Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong in the U.S. District Court in Toledo, where she has worked for 13 years.

"I'm at the computer all day doing research," she said. "That's what I love about my job. I get to learn every day."

And she was recently honored by the Toledo Bar Association with its Robert Kelb Award for outstanding service.

For nearly four years, she has been a key participant in the bar association's diversity committee, which raises awareness and provides sensitivity training on minority and cultural issues in the legal community.

"She has been very active with the association. She is a great person," said Louise Jackson, president of the 1,700-member bar association.

Ms. Gwinn has been active in committees and activities and donates her time unselfishly, Ms. Jackson said.

In fact, Ms. Gwinn, a lawyer since 1984, was among the members who organized a cultural potluck last week for which participants provided ethnic dishes. A similar luncheon event was held that same week in the federal courthouse, and a diversity breakfast is planned for Wednesday.

"Whatever you ask her to do, she will volunteer," Ms. Jackson said. "She is a person you can always count on."

She is a past treasurer and president of the Toledo Women's Bar Association. As president, she said she was instrumental in creating a nominating committee to make decisions regarding scholarship recipients.

She's the president of the Toledo/Bowling Green chapter of the Kentucky State Alumni Association, and a member of the Harbor House board, where she serves as the chairman of its personnel committee.

In addition, Ms. Jackson is a part of the Thurgood Marshall Law Association, the only minority bar association in northwest Ohio; is a trustee for the Ohio Women's Bar Association, and is a member of the advisory board at the Court Appointed Special Advocate/Citizen Review Board of Lucas County Juvenile Court.

So far, she says there's no one particular event that stands out to her when it comes to her career.

"It was making those little significant differences," she said. "I just want to make the world a better place because I was here."

Blade staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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