A wise Latino judge once said that a Latino lawyer is by definition a leader. The statistics reflect the sad truth of his statement. American Bar Association statistics show that in the year 2000, only 3.4 percent of attorneys were Hispanic. With one in three Latinos failing to graduate from high school, this number is hardly surprising and shows real cause for alarm. As President of the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia (“HBA-DC”), I often remind our members that, like it or not, we are all leaders with a responsibility to address this crisis and engage our young people in discussions about the importance of education. Given the Latino high school dropout rate, successful Latinos of all professions share in this responsibility.
To turn the tide, we must educate Latino youth that succeeding in school allows them to better their lives and empower the entire community. HBA-DC is proud to have within our membership some of the best and brightest attorneys in the D.C. metropolitan area and the nation. Our membership boasts both state and federal judges, Administration appointees, and partners in the largest global law firms. Simply highlighting and promoting the level of achievement of our community sends the strongest message to those who, sadly, are not yet convinced of the abilities and potential of our community. If anything, it is that inner spark to prove others wrong that can motivate Latino youth.
We must also educate Latino youth that succeeding in school is a real possibility. The simple act of visiting and speaking with youth is the easiest and most powerful way of showing them that someone who looks like them can be successful too. In the D.C. area, there are endless community organizations that are eager for volunteers. Among them are Liberty’s Promise, the Latin American Youth Center, and New Futures. By taking the time to share our experiences and accomplishments, we can motivate their inner “si se puede” spirits, no matter what the obstacles. When visiting with youth, I enjoy recounting how, after reviewing my employment history, the examiner at my Maryland Bar character and fitness interview asked if I earned my law degree in an evening program. (I did not.) Although difficult at the time, today I am proud of the fact that I supported myself through law school.
But education does not end at the graduation ceremony. Real life experiences and mentorship are vital to the development of the new generation of leaders. As busy professionals, it is all too easy to ignore the needs of our young people. But we have a responsibility to pay it forward. If they are to succeed, we must mentor them and pass on the knowledge we gained from the trailblazers who came before us. Our future depends on it.
Lyzka DeLaCruz is the managing member of Bakker DeLaCruz LLC and serves as the 35th President of the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia, a non-profit, non-partisan professional association that was founded in 1977 as the Hispanic Lawyers Association.