Speaker of the House Welch and Other Alums Honored at Unity Dinner

Members of the Chicago legal community came together in December to honor a number of UIC Law graduates at the 2021 Unity Dinner, an annual event hosted by the Diversity Scholarship Foundation. The DSF awarded Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (’97), Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, the night’s highest honor. Three additional graduates were recognized among individuals who have made an impact in the Chicago legal community, and six law students were awarded scholarships.

As the event’s guest of honor, Emmanuel Chris Welch, a State Representative from the 7th District of Illinois and Speaker of the House, was awarded the 2021 Unity Award. According to the DSF, “This award is presented to a superlative individual who has tirelessly promoted diversity and inclusion in our profession and worked toward uniting diverse communities through action.” As state representative, Welch has focused on improving classroom education, creating jobs, helping the most vulnerable and streamlining government. He has been the Chief Sponsor of several pieces of historic legislation including the law bringing cursive writing back to schools, the Historic Illinois Trust Act, the law making Illinois a Welcoming State for immigrants and the Homeless Bill of Rights. Welch is also a leading voice for adding Black and Brown people to the boards of publicly held corporations after sponsoring landmark legislation that requires Illinois corporations to annually disclose their board composition.

Alums Erica N. Byrd (’08) , Marvet Sweis Drnovsek (’11) and Antonio Romanucci (’85) were also honored as Advocates for Diversity. This award celebrates those individuals who have actively advocated and promoted diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Byrd is currently a senior attorney at Valentine Austriaco & Bueschel PC, where she practices commercial litigation and real estate litigation. Sweis Drnovsek is the founder of MSD Injury Lawyers. She also sits on the Executive Committee for UIC Law’s Advisory Board, where she mentors law students regularly. Romanucci is a founding partner of the Chicago-based law firm Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, a national trial practice committed to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death arising from corporate negligence, civil rights violations, business interruption, medical malpractice, mass torts and class actions, as well as police misconduct. He was also recently named Chicago Lawyer Magazine’s 2021 Person of the Year for his work representing the family of George Floyd in their civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and four of its police officers.

In addition to awarding the Advocates for Diversity and Unity awards, the DSF also conferred scholarships to five UIC Law students. Students Emily Flaherty, Mysar Ihmud, Ashley Shannon, Jacqueline Spreadbury and Mary Vukovich were all recipients. More information about each scholarship recipient can be viewed here: https://diversitychicago.org/congratulations-2021-diversity-scholarship-foundation-scholarship-recipients-2/

The DSF was established by a group of attorneys and judges committed to the idea that diverse law school student bodies are required to ensure further diversification and inclusion in the legal community. The major fundraising event of the DSF is the Unity Gala, now in its nineteenth year. In addition to providing scholarships to law students, the DSF performs community outreach; speaking at public schools in the Chicago area about professionalism, civility and the importance of education. The DSF also develops and offers free continuing legal education courses. Most recently, the Foundation developed its First-Generation Mentor-Mentee Program, matching hundreds of law students with attorney and judges as mentors.

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