Where are you from? How have your experiences here, or throughout your upbringing, influenced your passions and aspirations today?
I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, a city located along the Gulf of New Mexico, and also known as the Sparkling City by the Sea.
I have had many experiences that have influenced my passion and aspiration for my work in the area of civil rights and social justice. I will describe three of those experiences.
When I was six years old my family went on a driving trip to visit my grandmother who lived in a city six hours from our home. It was a sweltering day in Texas, and I asked my mother to stop at a local fast-food establishment for some ice cream. When we arrived at the location, I immediately jumped out of the car and ran to the window to order my ice cream cone, only to be told that I could not be served at the front window. I had to go to the back of the restaurant to place and receive my order. Needless to say, I no longer was interested in purchasing ice cream from that location.
A few years later as a sixth grader, I remember watching a news broadcast featuring a new, young reporter named Peter Jennings. He was reporting on several African American families who lived in Louisiana in homes that needed repair and had no indoor toilet facilities. These families were paying market rate to rent homes that did not provide healthy living conditions. Peter Jennings asked the listening audience who will help these families. I vividly remember raising my hand in front of the television set and saying, “I will help.” It was at that moment that I made the decision to go to law school.
As I continued through my high school years, I learned about a man named Heman Sweatt who wanted to attend the University of Texas School of Law but was not allowed to do so. Instead, he was directed to attend the Texas Southern School of Law, a school that was specifically opened for African American students. Unlike the well-furnished and well-resourced University of Texas Law School, Texas Southern University was located in the basement of a building and without sufficient resources to study law. Heman Sweat filed a lawsuit to be admitted to the University of Texas Law School. The case was argued before the United States Supreme Court. The Court issued an order during the period where “separate but equal” was the prevailing law in the country to support the separation of people by race. In its opinion, the court determined that the University of Texas and Texas Southern University Law Schools were separate, but they were not equal. When Heman Sweat began his study of law at the University of Texas he was often required to sit outside the classroom to listen to the law professors’ lectures. Students in his class would not talk with him or discuss the legal principles that were being taught. Heman Sweat left law school and never graduated. I determined that I was going to attend the University of Texas School of Law, in honor of, and in support of Heman Sweat, and do something what he was prevented from doing. I not only graduated from the University of Texas School of Law, but I was also inducted into the Friar Society, the most prestigious honor society at the University of Texas. Justice was served.
Each of the above experiences have helped shape my thinking, my goals, and my desire to fight for civil rights and social justice for people who are often mistreated or have not had a strong voice in the justice system. I joined the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section of the American Bar Association because the mission and goals of the section aligned with mine.
What drives you?
It pains me to see people mistreated because of the color of their skin or their lack of financial resources. In carrying out my civil rights and social justice work, I often wonder what the future would look like if many of the people I encounter had access to good, quality healthcare, or access to the finances they needed to support their families and their dreams. I fight for these individuals through the work I do in my non-profit law center. My hope is that I am opening doors for them that will have a long-term, positive influence upon their lives.
Why is the African American Affairs Committee important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
The African American Affairs Committee looks at civil rights, social justice, and economic justice through the lens of helping individuals who identify as being African American, or who care about the struggles that African Americans have endured in the economic, social justice or civil rights arena. I am inspired by the goal set by the Committee each year.
What does economic justice mean to you?
I have adopted the definition of economic justice that means implementing or enacting policies, principles and laws that will allow every person to have an equal opportunity to access jobs, financial wealth and material resources that will lead to having a dignified, productive life for themselves and for their family.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge to economic justice today?
The greatest challenge to economic justice is helping those with power, wealth, and access to capital, understand they can share these items with others without losing power, wealth, and access to capital. The great challenge is showing that resources can be shared without affecting the power of others.
How does economic justice interact with the African American Affairs Committee and how can it accomplish change?
The African American Affairs Committee encourages individuals and communities to utilize the services and products of African American businesses. African American businesses are often small businesses and are not given the opportunity to show the great products and service they provide. When African American businesses grow, we also see a growth in jobs in local communities, resulting in the growth of community wealth. When community wealth grows so does access to resources that support economic justice in communities where African American businesses are housed. The African American Affairs Committee can promote economic justice by featuring African American businesses and businesses led by people of color by highlighting these businesses each month through the social media platforms of the members of the Committee.
When you look back, what is it that you want your advocacy and professional career to stand for?
I want my advocacy to stand for change that will influence and lift communities out of poverty. I want my advocacy to be known for helping every child have equal access to good education and for helping to write and implement laws and policies that will benefit individuals and families in perpetuity.
What CRSJ project(s) are you working on? Or, what have you undertaken in CRSJ that you found most rewarding to have worked on? Are there any upcoming events or projects you want us all to know about?
On a local level, I have been a leading advocate in the implementation of bi-partisan legislation that led to the enactment of the Fair Pay for Women Act in the state of New Mexico. I have fought for mental health rooms in every middle and high school in the state to help our children have a safe place to discuss the mental health and emotional challenges they are facing in an effort to reduce the school to prison pipeline. I am currently fighting to ensure that there are enough doctors and nurses in the state to serve the vast, diverse population where there are not enough medical providers. I am trying to change the face of quality, affordable housing to truly mean comfortable housing that people can proudly call home. I also advocate for these items with national organizations.
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
In my spare time, I enjoy walking through the beautiful New Mexico countryside and listening to all genres of music.
What is one thing most people do not know about you that you feel they should?
The one thing that most people do not know about me is that I would like to obtain my license to fly a Hot Air Balloon and own a Hot Air Balloon.