Guyana Diaspora

'89 percent of Guyana 's graduate population live and work in the 30 relatively rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) -"Fruit that falls far from the tree",
The Economist, 03 November 2005'

It is estimated that there are as many Guyanese living overseas as they are in Guyana
They are spread out far and wide to almost every country on the planet
This blog was created to chronicle the news and and stories of the Diaspora

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Making a Difference

Making a difference doing what she loves Lawyer sees promise in community, U.S
The daughter of a London-educated barrister and Guyana native, and a Dutch mother, Patrica Cummings came to the United States as a 17-year-old on a visit to see her sister in Kansas City, Mo., with her father, who was an official with British Guyana's Olympic Committee. What she didn't know was that her parents had tricked her,they knew that as soon as she visited America, she'd want to stay .

Binghamton, NY, lawyer Patricia Cummings chose to live in Broome County. But not before she and her husband-to-be, Hugh Leonard, also a lawyer, listed the pros and cons of settling in Binghamton on a legal pad.

The pros, she said, won out. Cummings, 54, left the Manhattan law firm where she practiced and has spent the past 13 years as a partner with her husband at O'Connor, Gacioch, Leonard & Cummings, a Binghamton, NY law firm. Cummings and Leonard met at an alumni weekend football game at Syracuse University, where both attended law school.

Cummings, a native of Guyana in South America, didn't find the transition from Manhattan to Binghamton all that difficult.

"Binghamton is sophisticated in its own way. People's minds are open and their hearts are big," she said.

But Broome County is also the place where Cummings came face to face with her first and only experience where she felt she was judged on the basis of her skin color.

A now-retired judge expressed concern that a jury would identify her with African Americans, Asians and Middle Easterners in the community and the influx of illegal drugs. She still has difficulty talking about the experience, and won't name the judge.

"I think for the first time in my life I was speechless," she said. "And then I think I told him I would put my trust in juries because my experience has been very good with juries."

It was a comment she'll never forget. But she's moved on.

"That has been my only experience where someone made a negative comment directly to me because of the color of my skin, and I found it horribly unfair," she said. "But you know that life isn't fair."

The daughter of a London-educated barrister, and British Guyana native and a Dutch mother, Cummings came to the United States as a 17-year-old on a visit to see her sister in Kansas City, Mo., with her father, who was an official with British Guyana's Olympic Committee.

What she didn't know was that her parents had tricked her. They didn't like her teenage friends. But they knew that as soon as she visited America, she'd want to stay, she said.

"They knew that once I had a taste of this," she said, "that I would never go back home."

They were right. Cummings trained as an X-ray technician, then got her undergraduate degree in health care management. Then it was on to law school in Syracuse and ultimately to Binghamton, where much of her legal practice involves medical malpractice cases.

Interview

Q: How have you put your experience with the judge in perspective?

A: I do think some good will come of it. I'm now a delegate to the New York State Bar Association. I have spoken with them about it. Maybe we'll take some steps — maybe a questionnaire for jurors to fill out and answer questions about their perceptions.

If they feel that way about a lawyer, what do they feel about a defendant of color? How does that defendant get a fair trial? How does a plaintiff get a fair trial? But I don't believe for a second that that is what people think.

Q: Have people changed in their attitudes toward race?

A: I'm speaking as someone who personally until a few years ago hadn't experienced anything like that. I can see it (racism) in stores and things like that. I've read about it. I haven't really lived it.

You know what I'll never forget? When I first came to this country. Remember, I didn't grow up with television. A big event for us was going to the public library and getting Time magazine and all these things about what was going on in the world. When I was living in Kansas City, after a number of years, I finally bought a television. There was a show on TV called the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman. I cried for days. I could not believe the horrors that were inflicted on those people.

Remember, my father was a judge, my mother grew up in Europe. The horrors. I remember that. Then of course Roots took over television. That was a real eye opener, too.

Q: Has America had a hard time facing its past?

A: We may have a hard time facing up to our past. But we ought to stop and pat ourselves on the back for what a terrific job we have done and are doing — although there's a long way to go.

The rest of the world is now experiencing what Americans have dealt with for centuries. Take New York City. Think of all the different cultures that live side by side in relative peace. Where else in the world have people welcomed volumes of immigrants?

We're just now starting to see it in Europe. We're just now starting to see that influx and how it changes the culture and the effects that it has. And look what's happening in Denmark. My oldest sister has lived in Denmark since 1969. She's more Danish than she is anything else. She has three boys. They have grandkids. She's always been accepted. Every time I've visited there, people speak in Danish first, and then when they realize I don't speak Danish, then they speak English to me. They just accept you. Now all of a sudden they are having all these problems. I think it's because of the huge number of people coming into the different countries.

We're always down on ourselves, and perhaps that's what makes us so wonderful. Because we are always looking to see how we can be better.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

A: Where would I like to see the world go? If we could all just recognize that we all want basically the same things. Every mother and father wants a safe environment for their children, a good education for their children. It doesn't matter whether you're Muslim. It doesn't matter if you're Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Presbyterian, black or white. We all want the same things.

So why don't we just start to recognize what we have in common and work toward everyone being able to have what they need? Maybe that's too simplistic. If you just look at the person next to you — instead of being afraid of them, or instead of being threatened by them — and just think to yourself: What is it that they want? Is it that much different than what I want? Why can't we both have it? There's enough to go around.
So why do we always feel so threatened when someone else wants what we have?

Q: What would your advice be to a young person thinking about a law career?

A: Do it only if you really love the profession. I believe it was Warren Buffett who said, "Pick a career you love and you will become wealthy." I think kids today are just looking at being wealthy. If they follow their hearts and go where their heart tells them to go, they'll find not just financial wealth, but emotional wealth, too.

Q: What is your biggest legal accomplishment?

A: You know, great moments come from small opportunities. The highlight of my career is a case I probably wouldn't even have taken initially. It's a case where I got the Court of Appeals (New York's highest court) to reverse itself after 22 years of saying to women who lose a fetus as a result of malpractice that they've had no emotional injury. After 22 years.

All I did was I argued it logically. I would tell young people going to law school to look for an opportunity to make a difference. That was my opportunity. And you know, I almost ignored it.

When those people came to my office, they were good people. The law didn't give them a right to recover. I said: "I'll try, and just see what happens." Then I just kept getting angrier about it. At some point, it got to the appellate division. I got one judge to rule in my favor. Then I asked for permission from the Court of Appeals, and they accepted it. They hardly accept any case. It was a small victory for those who have lost fetuses as a result of malpractice.

It was the only time where I could think of where clearly there was a negligent act and yet there was no recourse. There's been significant writing and developments in the law as a result of it. But it's my client's victory, really. She had to be incredibly brave to let me take it that far, to make her life on such a personal level so public.

You know, that's one of the things I thought about when the judge made that rather rude comment to me. I thought: "I'm just going to quit. Why do I need this?" And I thought: "Wait a minute. There may be a small opportunity." I'm still here. I'll continue to be here.

From Press & Sun-Bulletin

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