Sometimes people find their life’s passion at an early age. And sometimes, that passion finds them in unusual ways.
J. Danielle Carr knew from the time she became a big fan of “Perry Mason” that she wanted to be a litigator, but her true professional passion started by throwing parties.
“I got into diversity and inclusion totally by accident,” Carr said. “When I was [living] in Chicago, my roommate and I would hold parties in our apartment, and we’d get something like 13 people, and that quickly turned into 50.”
From there, Carr and her roommate began hosting special events, borrowing the “First Fridays” theme of after-hours networking for African American events. As profits rolled in, Carr left her law firm to start a business hosting special events, but not for long.
When a part-time position on the board of the Chicago Committee on Minorities opened, Carr said, “about 10 people reached out to me about the opportunity.” She gave the new job a try.
“When I applied, I said I will literally do it for a year and that will be it, because there will be no need for it anymore,” Carr said with a laugh. “Well, it’s about 20 years later, and here I am doing the same thing.
“The needle hasn’t moved a whole heck of a lot, although we’re starting to see some real progress in the last couple of years.
In the years since she took the position that helped 44 of Chicago’s largest law firms plan and implement recruiting of diverse attorneys, Carr has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments. After moving to St. Louis in 2007 to work for Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, she helped to found the St. Louis Diversity Job Fair and the Missouri Minority Counsel Program.
Carr, who became director of diversity and inclusion for Polsinelli in 2016, also recently wrapped up a term as president of the Mound City Bar Association — though that wasn’t planned, either.
In 2008, she began working on the St. Louis Diversity Job Fair with Ronda Williams, a woman Carr said “made me look like a slacker.” Williams, who served as president of the bar association in 2009-10, also led the organization’s major annual event, the CLE retreat. After Williams’ sudden passing in 2013, Carr stepped in and ran the event for five years, landing on the bar association’s executive committee.
Carr said she served as bar association president in 2018-19 because she cares about the organization and believed she could do a good job, though she notes the position took a “tremendous amount of time.”
She also has served on the University of Michigan’s African American Alumni Association’s board of directors since 2013, and she squeezes in time to mentor young law students.
“You know, when you’re doing what you like to do, it doesn’t seem like a job,” Carr said. “Some days, I literally don’t remember how I got everything done.”
Though the way Carr has found success in her field may not have been planned, her drive to push diversity and inclusion in the workplace is anything but accidental.
“It’s all about transparency and relationship-building,” she said. “My personal motto is intentional inclusion. Inclusion doesn’t happen automatically. You have to work at it. You can’t rest and give up, because otherwise you’re sliding back.”