Most people from the community Flores grew up in made a living by being skilled trade workers, not through a career following the procurement of a secondary degree. Flores’s father and mother, a Mexican immigrant and first-generation American citizen, respectively, also never graduated from college. That said, his parents strongly encouraged him to be the first in the family to accomplish this feat.
Unfortunately, however, Flores struggled because he did not have a roadmap. Additionally, he did not even know how to create a path to success that would carry him from his starting point to his destination. Part of his decision to join the Marines was to seek help with his schooling. Little did he know at the time, he would quickly transition from being in the Reserves to being deployed to Iraq. Nonetheless, although his military service ended up longer than he initially intended, Flores knows that the time spent was necessary for his journey to propel him to where he sits today.
Among men of color, Flores’s recollection is somewhat commonplace. The challenge to see yourself in a role or position that no one around you has ever held is tough enough. But, assuming one has the mental fortitude to believe they can achieve such goals, outlining the critical steps one must take to make the vision come to pass is even tougher. To that end, the work of the Men of Color Project is geared to aid young male attorneys by first helping them identify the life they want for themselves and then providing tools and resources to help them attain it. Namely, the project promotes a digital toolkit on its website with key accessible resources on this and other subject matters.
Mental Health and Wellness
The final pillar of the Men of Color Project is mental health and wellness. A variety of initiatives have made the importance to care for one’s physical health more valued. Unfortunately, however, there still exists a significant stigma around mental health. That stigma only intensifies for those from communities of color. Although the symptoms are largely unseen by outsiders, mental and emotional ailments can be just as impactful to a person’s overall state of wellness.
An important aspect of Flores’s journey was his time spent in military service. When he graduated boot camp on September 7, 2001 (a mere four days before 9/11), he had no idea what the immediate future would hold. He promptly transitioned from his intended role as a Reserve to serving in Iraq. While overseas, two members of his company were killed.
It goes without saying that the stressors of engaging in an active war or losing a loved one, close friend, or colleague are each in their own way highly stressful, devastating experiences. Yet to have both such realities collide is an even tougher situation to cope with. Flores undoubtedly credits not only his faith but also his family, mentors, and friends for helping him focus on his overall well-being and ensuring he achieves and maintains complete wellness. Flores is living proof that everything pales in comparison when your health is lacking or otherwise failing.
No one achieves success alone. Simply put, we all are, in some way, standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. We walk in their footsteps. Flores understood that to reach his goals, he needed great mentors and sponsors, a vision and a plan, and to be of sound mind and body. More importantly, he knew the secret ingredient to each of those necessities is other people. In that same vein, the Men of Color Project also understands that male lawyers of color, particularly during the pivotal early years of their careers, need unique, targeted support and programs to provide them the tools and resources to succeed.
The goal of the Men of Color Project is that those who are positively affected will continue to reach back and add links to the proverbial chain of success stories. As the late Judge Damon J. Keith often said, “you are walking on floors you did not scrub and through doors you did not open; so, wherever you go, scrub floors and open doors.” Let us never forget his great charge and forever reach back as we simultaneously reach forward.