Moving Up In America: Is It Still Possible?

Uploaded by MSLawdotedu on 12.06.2012


welcome to the massachusetts school of law educational forum
thank you for joining us
I'm your host diane sullivan
moving up in america
pursuing the american dream
this is a topic near and dear to our hearts and the mission of our law school
for we believe that intelligent people who work enormously hard can achieve
anything that they desire
education drives upward mobility from an early age on our parents instilled in us that in
order to get ahead
you need to get an education
and you need to work hard
is that still possible today or is the american dream dying
rana foroohar assistant managing editor of time magazine wrote an interesting
article on this subject entitled what ever happened to upward mobility well i think
the idea of being an opportunity society is crucial to our self image as americans
it's what this nation was built on many of
our family certainly my family my father was an immigrant my grandparents' people
come here thinking that they're going to have
an easier way up this economic ladder than there
than their parents did and I think that that's what america is known for here and abroad do
you believe that the american dream as we all knew it growing up is still very
much alive today
i think that
a lot of people still uh believe in the dream they believe that they
can strive for the dream we we did a poll actually a time money magazine poll last
asking people about the american dream and
even though everyone believes that their children can still have it a lot of
people feel that they themselves cannot have it and i think the statistics show that
the dream is getting harder
you write in your article that
as long as people are working hard and they believe that they can get ahead
that social inequality
in the present term
does not bother them because it's this dream
this christmas tomorrow
that makes people more complacent or more optimistic i wonder if you'd
comment on that
well i think you've hit on a really important point uh which defines so much
of our political and state structures in this country
there is a belief and you can see it in surveys that as long as we've got a shot
at being rich we don't mind if there's a lot of inequality we don't mind if
there's the henry kravitz's and the koch brothers you know as long as we can
have our McMansion too
but that gap that that belief starts narrowing when you feel that the system
is rigged then people start worrying a lot more about inequality discuss if
you would the significance of occupy wall street what did that mean in our
well i think it meant so much uh...
i was shocked to be honest as somebody that covers economics and business that it
didn't happen a lot earlier we were all waiting all of us after the fall of
lehman brothers
for there to be mass protests and we all wrote these sort of you know we're all
socialists now
covers and that didn't come to pass but i think that after a few years the
patience of of even americans that are willing to put up with a lot in terms of
inequality was exhausted and i think that's what you saw in these movements
what evidence either supports or refutes the idea that it is harder to get ahead
well there's been a number of studies done or studies that I should
say have been done over the last several decades that are now being reported on
looking at intergenerational mobility and what that means is look taking
taking a person from the time that they're coming of age and coming into the
workplace until the time that they have children so about a twenty year
period and and looking at whether they're doing better worse
uh... the same than their parents
and what those statistics show us is that america is falling behind
particularly in comparison to europe which i think is really interesting
because we think again to go back to
the statue of liberty to to the generations before that's why people
came to america they thought it was going to be easier here one other important point
that you make is that
if you were born in nineteen seventy
in the bottom
one-fifth of the socioeconomic ladder
you are far less likely to get ahead then you would have at one time yeah i
wonder if you'd talk a little bit about that yes so if you were to be uh... in
that bottom uh... quartile in the say the fifties
it would've been a lot easier to get ahead then it would be if you started out
in the seventies and went 'till today and i think that
that reflects a kind of mega shift in our economy the period of highest
in most of our lifetimes was from the fifties to the seventies it was the post war
era europe was rebuilding america was surging ahead
um... there was a tremendous amount of uh... consolidation growth in american
industry but globalization hadn't really taken off yet
once you hit the seventies and in particular the late seventies
you start getting a lot of other countries coming online you know you get
the emerging markets china you get eastern europe you get a little bit later on you
get the fall of the soviet union and all those countries coming in
and of course people in those places want theirs as well but then that means
many many uh billions billions of of more people that we have to compete
are people today better off or worse off than their parents
well it's interesting um there's two ways to look at it you can look at it in
absolute figures which a lot of economists will to be fair and then we
have to say we're better off we actually do have more money than our
parents we have
many many technologies that they didn't have I mean you know look at our flat
screen televisions and our our snazzy refrigerators and things like that
uh... but if you look at it in relative terms a lot of people would say that
we're not as well-off and
i think relative is what matters because as i as i write in the article
we don't peg ourselves to our parents we peg ourselves to the jones's will you talk
a little bit about the divide between the richest and the poorest
in america today
I'm going to refer to coming apart again because i do think it's it's a very very
interesting look
uh and this is someone who's he's on the right i i tend to think of myself more as a
liberal but i think that some interesting points are being made in that
there's an entire cultural divide now
between the upper middle class and the upper classes in this country and the working
class uh...
in terms of education
which is the base of the pyramid that's that's where it all starts really um...
because that is education is you know as you know is the number one
factor in terms of mobility if you don't have that
your chances of getting up the latter really are are slim
so these people are more highly educated
their lives are different they tend to get married and stay married more than say a
working-class person would
no moral judgment on that but what it does mean is
they tend to be richer you tend to be not operating with one income you tend to have
more stability
there's all different sorts of ways in which their lives are different their
their habits are different their
their political values are different so it's
we're really creating a bifurcated society here and i do think that that's
a risk for democracy
what about the real-estate market how has that impacted things
uh... that's a huge
missing link that i think people don't don't speak enough about so
you know there was a lot of talk uh during the clinton administration and later in
the bush years of creating an opportunity society
by allowing people to buy homes and certainly while uh... home ownership has
been an important part of the american dream
as we all know there was there were
an unfortunate number of flawed mortgages given to people often
fraudulently on the part of the banks
who couldn't afford them the government
in some cases knowingly
pushed these policy ideas out because they wanted this debt
to cover up
this long term problem of the hollowing middle that has been happening since the
late nineteen seventies basically since the seventies
wages in this country and every other rich country in the world have been flat
and we've been trying to hide that with debt and we can't do it any more another uh
area that you write about that's near and dear to my heart that is the loss of
manufacturing jobs like you
my family were immigrants and
social mobility happened for us because my parents went to work
in the mills in the city of pittsburgh those jobs don't exist anymore well
absolutely i mean my father's a turkish immigrant he was given a scolar he was from from
a very poor family peasant family really in turkey he was given a scholarship to study
in this country and became an engineer
this plays to some other aspects that maybe we'll come to later but a long story
short he went into the manufacturing business in the midwest he was part of the
auto components field
he was laid off later
uh... when that area was hollowed out in the eighties he was
at an advantage in the sense that he had a college degree and was able to later
start a small businesses but certainly uh and that's an important issue to in all of this
but certainly we felt uh being in the midwest and you know hearing hearing stories
from my grandparents who had it harder they didn't have college degrees they were
immigrants as well
um... that that this was a this was a big issue i mean that the the death of
these industries where you could work
uh... often without having a college degree has had a tremendous impact I think
talk about technology and how
the technology driven economy has changed things in the past decade that's area
that I think people are just beginning to explore the enormous implications of
i think we all have an idea that technology has hollowed out manufacturing
we can all imagine complex machines that have taken the
the place of workers but what i think we don't have a clue about yet is the fact
that it's going to hollow out white-collar jobs
you know there are just i'm a journalist there are now
software programs that are being used to write wire copy you know i mean there
there's almost no job that you can think of uh... that that can't in some
way be touched and reshaped by this there's actually a fantastic book by a couple of
MIT academics called race against the machine
and these are guys from MIT right they're all about technology
but they're they're raising the point that even though we can look and and see that
technology has been a net job creator so far they feel that we may be at the
point now where it's going to become a net job destroyer sure across a number
of industries
and that's pretty profound I think
you write that america's best hope is to improve education
talk about that
i think education as i said is um... is the the bottom wrung on on the ladder it's
at the base of this entire pyramid um studies have shown that it is the factor
that has the most uh...
implications for mobility if you if you have a leg up in this way if you can
afford an education
which many people can't in this country as we know
um you can
you can generally get ahead you can improve your situation
if you if you can't increasingly you won't be able to
and i think what we need to do is start thinking about it
all across the board i mean not only do we need to make it easier for people to
complete four-year degrees and professional degrees but we also need to
make it easier for people to learn skills in trade schools in in in in
universities that connect with uh
employers i'm actually going out in a couple of weeks to visit a high school
in brooklyn a technical high school
which is a six-year high school that actually you start it when you're when
you're fourteen and you end up
after six years with with an associates degree wow so you know
because uh... as i'm sure that you know dropout rates
for community colleges and associates programs are often very high but if you
can get these kids in as part of their high school education then
they're guaranteed a job with one of the major employers including i_b_m_ for
example uh... that support this program so i think that that
kind of thing we need to start talking more about
what impact does
have on poverty
i think it's a big impact it's an impact that's very difficult to measure and one
of the interesting things that's coming out in poverty research more and more is
it's not so much about absolute income you can't say if you're below x dollar
you're poor and if you're above it you're not
in the lives of people uh... that fall into poverty is oftentimes a more
important factor so for example healthcare emergencies in this country
I mean in massachusetts things are better than in a lot of states you know
uh... but something like a
third actually i think it is a third of people who fall into poverty
in-and-out of poverty on a yearly basis it's because of a health care emergency
they can't pay their medical bills I mean and this kind of thing is thinkable
in europe where
uh... i spent many years as a correspondent and thankfully had two children
on the state health care system there
i wanted to talk for a moment about europe's higher spending on social safety
and how that has bolstered their economy well we could talk about two things on
that front healthcare and education i think the fact that people have a
baseline level of of state funded health care
means that they don't have these kind of health care emergencies that then push
them into poverty
and become more expensive because then of course you have people going to the emergency room
you have people that need to go on social services etc.
education though is another important factor um
when you look at these studies from places like pew and brookings that are
finding how
uh... a number of western and northern european countries are now more socially
mobile than the U.S. you often find
that a big factor is state-funded education
because you know kids here you can be really smart but if you're poor
you're stuck yeah you know and with the pell grants going and you know a lot of things making it harder
and harder to get an education I think it's going to be a continuing problem and if you're born
poor you're much more likely to be sick and malnourished on top of everything
else absolutely
what impact does our tax policy have on the problem of social inequality
essentially i think what we need is
uh a tax system more like the one that you find in germany or france
which is a simpler
okay i mean you know we all know of the
hundreds of pages of
of tax code in this country that make it easy to jump through legal hoops
the rich that have succeeded because of all the opportunities in this country need
to pay their fair share i mean i think that you need a system in which you're going to
have a high consumption tax so if you're the kind of person that can
two cadillacs mr. romney you know
or you know a jet or a yacht
then you have to pay for them in a way that we don't in this country i think that
you also need to think about
systems that really take the burden off of the middle
and uh... redistribute to the poor but in areas that have
um... that are directly touching mobility areas like i would say
education first and foremost but
probably health care and a number of other areas
as well any other specific ideas on how this nation can create more
many of these things really do focus back on education uh...
it was interesting because charles murray actually today in the new york times
had an interesting op ed piece about this in which he talked about not only
do we need more technical schools and a kind of a re-evaluation of this idea of
a four year degree
an ivy league school automatically gets you a job in
you know this and that
another great company we need to
uh... pay everyone minimum wage so no more unpaid internships i mean you know
i i have to say working in media
uh... which is not a particularly well-paid industry you see a lot of people that
can afford to take on
unpaid internships and then you have a leg-up whereas right kids that are not
as advantaged have to wait tables or you know do things that are not as career
advancing so
I think some kind of law I agree with him that that
you need to pay everyone minimum wage regardless of um...
of what kind of starter job they're in
i think a re
rethinking of trade and technical schools
uh... more collaboration kind of german style actually yeah between public
sector private sector and educators there's not enough
talking although i think there starting to be more i hear more about
this in washington
i think we need I'm going to use a third-rate rail word here but sort of industrial
light not
industries that you want to succeed but getting the public the private the educators
together to talk about
where are there growth opportunities it would be great
if more and more
cities municipalities and companies could get together and do this type of
it would be and it's the norm elsewhere in the world so it should be here too
you have spoken about china you've spoken a little bit about europe generally
talk to us about canada what lessons can we learn from our neighbors
in canada that's a great question well two come to mind immediately first health
care they do do more at a at a national level uh... to make sure that
there's a baseline of care you don't have kind the of volatile healthcare emergencies
like you do here
uh but secondly their banking system
uh is actually much more sensible than the u_s_ they were one of the few
countries rich countries that haven't had a banking crisis they have much smarter
uh... banking regulations i think we can look at their financial system and learn something
final question
you have children will they do better than you have done
i hope so I hope so I
uh... it's interesting
i go back to the point about pegging ourselves to the jones's pegging
ourselves to people around us I grew up um
i would say
very middle class in indiana
and my mother was a teacher and my father was an engineer and
i felt like we had a lot for the neighborhood that we lived in i grow up
my kids are growing up in new york
around people that are that are very very wealthy and people that are very poor
um so they have different expectations but i hope that that gives them uh... a sense
that we're all in this together as we are in this city and this country
associate dean of the massachusetts school of law michael l coyne
asked a few of his students their thoughts on whether it's possible to move up today
i think the american dream is far from dead
i certainly think that uh... i'm living it right now
and uh...
i would never thought that
i'd be sitting here
speaking to a dean of a law school
after coming to the united states
from the uh... dominican republic
in nineteen eighty six as a child
uh... it's been a long
it's been a long ride
and it's not over yet when did you learn to speak english uh... well when i came
to lawrence
i don't think they had a bilingual program such as now
so it was really sink or swim
and i remember there was uh one lady who came
and brought and took me out of the classroom
for about an hour a day
and they called it chapter one
and i i think that that helped me transition and within one year
i actually learned how to speak english enough to
to defend myself and then go down from there and so then you
finished grade school went on to college
and ultimately law school who who's the driver there who's uh... motivating
to to keep
progressing and moving on and telling you that
you can accomplish these things well initially
it starts at the home right 0:19:09.570,0:19:13.770 my mom and dad always believed that that i could do anything i really wanted to
uh... education
was a topic
every single day
every single month every single year
even during the summers
but now that I'm older obviously
they've instilled that that drive in me
so um
the man in the mirror
that's that's the drive right now
uh... tell me about law school how did you then say
okay uh... maybe I'll give law school a try because again
uh... it's a pretty rapid
journey from the dominican to where we're at today
well again it was a combination of things uh...
after going to school at Ithaca college in upstate new york
did you enjoy Ithaca
oh i loved it i would go back right now
i would go back right now it was
it was such a great four years
uh... as you can imagine
uh... a kid from lawrence
uh... just pretty much knowing
the outskirts of lawrence and not traveling anywhere
overnight i was in
a campus that was gorgeous beautiful beautiful campuses between cornell
and ithaca it's gorgeous
i think um... it was
wonderful four years if i could go back right now I'd definitely do it
did that really give you the drive to to do better academically to keep pushing
when you
were in such a a strong academic environment as you'd find in ithaca
I the way i see it is
a different part of the world was exposed
uh... i remember
seeing not only the facilities
the the the buildings and
and uh... even the gymnasium
but seeing
being around students that
that really
challenged you because you know they wanted to get a higher grade than you
so um once once that seed was planted
there was no looking back
i knew that I was within the grasp
of success so then you go to work after college and you're bumping up against the
glass ceiling and you say there's gotta be something more for you
on your horizon i mean that you you you see it
every day you you turn on the TV and you see
uh…uh politicians or people trying to change the world and other different
and then
when you apply it to
your own
expectations you say well i i i know i can do better
to make a long story short I
i found myself at a crossroads where
where i said there has to be more
i've gotten this far i know i can attain another level
the funny story is that a friend of mine
about three years prior to me applying here
he invited me to come to uh to an open house
and i said okay why not
and I wasn't even thinking about law school back then
and i sat in the old courtroom
and i heard you guys speak
and I said oh
well you know that sounds nice and another seed was planted
and lo and behold three years later
i found myself applying because
i remembered the
opportunities that were that were described
and now that we're on the topic
during my first week of orientation i still remember you said to the whole class
don't blow this opportunity
and those words have still resonating within my head even in law school i
know you faced additional challenges not academic but i know you were in a serious
accident I was uh...
there had to be a lot of different opportunities not just that where you could you just could have packed it in
and said you know what I
can do something else what what keeps you driving even after
the serious accident that I know you were in sure 0:23:07.840,0:23:08.760 uh...
well i should mention that um...
when i was in high school
my mom
became ill
she wasn't around
she was um she became incapacitated
and she passed in two thousand seven
it that was a very sad day but
that that um...
that point in my life seemed
uh... so so low
that i really
needed to bring myself up in any way i can
so when things get hard i think of of mom
how hard
i've had it
and how much
higher I can bring myself up
uh... you mentioned the accident
the school was was marvelous they they they allowed me to uh... have an
on one of my papers because i couldn't type
because I hurt my hand
so i had to use one one finger
and you're right i could've packed it in I could've said this isn't for me
this is too hard
and it wasn't easy
but you have to look at the
adversities that you have
you have to look at
bad you you feel sometimes sometimes in your life and you have to
i can do so much better
and you have to turn every
situation and turn it into a positive
frederick douglass says without struggle there is no progress
nothing could be further from the truth
now tell me
what the plan is for the next five to ten years i want to be an administrater
uh... I can see what
uh... higher education has done for me
I've had some exposure to that a little bit
and i really want to be
the driving force behind
a university
or a college
and i want to be
the person
that says
let's go after it let's be better
let's make each every one of the students who come to our program better
because it's
because education has made my life better
who are your influences that encourage you to
think bigger
to go to college to go beyond college to go to law school well
starting off with my family uh... my mother she's from the caribbean uh...
and my father he's from
america of course but growing up they always instilled in us that
you can do all things through christ um that you can be the change in this
world not just make a difference but be the difference
so starting with my family my church family and my teachers and community
is church a significant influence in your life your activities the way in
which you will live yes um...
doing church growing up speaking
um having the opportunity to participate in the community um doing debate
oratorical speaking working with uh young kids I always did that
so i always had a vision that i wanted to not only
deal with children but i had an opportunity to do it in church so
starting from that point of view
do you see uh...
both your church activities and your law school and higher education
uh... goals is is that the way to obtain social
mobility to
to find the next rung up the ladder well with my church uh...
the congregation of the church of christ they gave me a foundation of discipline of
uh... regardless of the obstacles that you face that you can stay focused in the
midst of your storms
so being in law school just having that mindset no matter what happens you can
stay focused
and being driven and know that people love you and care and will
support you no matter what happens so it starts from that point of view what do
you tell other people when they say you know that
that whole hope of the american dream is a fallacy is that
you know you've got to be uh... from a certain group a certain class and have a
certain education to be able to uh... achieve in this society you think that's
true well growing up in the south uh... in florida and coming up here i see
the complete difference
um with the american dream from a lot of
young students i would say would have had vision that
i can only get this far uh because i'm black or because I'm a female
um however if you have all the capacities the education and if you have the
motivation to keep the end in mind first
and take those steps to get there
you will get there no matter what uh...
how do you
achieve success well it's
starts off from my um
prayer um spiritual aspect
prayer and having faith to know that
regardless of what obstacles are placed before me whether it's school whether it's um
finances whether it's employment
that there's something bigger and something brighter at the end of the day
uh... there's the light at the end of the tunnel
and what i do i keep in mind of where i want to be if I want to be the supreme
court justice the first african-american
um woman than i have to take the necessary steps to do that so
by going to law school msl by staying focused by getting involved by
talking to people and also networking those opportunities and staying focused in my
studies and also just uh making sure that
i have the goals in the back of my head
it helps me to get to where I want to be
and mock trial the same thing preparation uh... you have to practice
and it's not just practice it's perfect practice that makes perfect tell me how
you juggle everything you do because
uh... i've been talking to a few people
and it really appears to me the old adage that if you want
to get something done give it to a busy person
and to a large extent as you know
to me you embody that you were
uh... head of the black law students association at mass school of law
uh... you're head of the barristers which is a public service organization where
you go out
and assist the less fortunate one
time a month
uh... I know you've been extraordinarily active in the trial advocacy teams
your extraordinarily uh... active with respect to your church and the public
uh... that they do
you do law school i don't know what else you do
I assume you have some type of personal life offsite you know i i i i have how do i
uh somewhat how do I balance to be honest dean coyne I don't know I just know it's by the grace of
god it's about giving back uh... when you go to barristers to feed the
it's like seeing the smiles on their faces it's um when you're working with children
interning in the court you're seeing the difference and the change needed
so with me it's like if i see a need I always just
just naturally
try to do it or get it done and not wait for other people because if you
wait on someone it may not happen
so instead of like i said instead of trying to make the difference it's be the
difference so that others will be influenced by what you do and and
get on fire and do it too
you see you attribute a lot of your success to god
i mean you're not
embarrassed by it
you're very out there with it right right 0:29:59.750,0:30:02.320 uh is it that significant of an influence does it
carry you through those rough times does it keep you
striving ever higher is it that
much of a power in your life
uh my faith and my believe in god is uh... what keeps me through uh... it's what
I believe wakes me up in the morning and with the drive that i'm going to be something
positive today
and it's what helps me um... in the midst of the day when it's not going
well uh... when things are negatively coming at my way it's it's my balance
so my faith in god it secures me and my foundation because i know that i'm
not just anyone
but i am extraordinary I am unique and there's just no one like me and because
of that and because of god and christ was like that way it's easier to live in this
society your parents must have instilled a little bit of that confidence in you to so
they've obviously done a terrific job we have to give them credit and i have a brother and a
sister and they're all doing exceptionally well and it's because my
parents always said well we gave our life
uh... to help you
and by giving their life they would sacrifice growing up they did a lot of
sacrificing so that
we can go to the debate tournaments when we may not have the money or they can
work an extra job and they always is instill education is the key education
is successful you know whenever you have it you can go anywhere you can move
mountains and faith and education
you know that's a combination together
do you think the opportunity for education will continue to exist for the
young felicea's and
young mikes and everyone else because the cost of education people start to
worry that the cost of education is just skyrocketing
and that that window of opportunity for people like us is it may well be closing
uh... as it grows grows ever more expensive
what what do you think about that
i think once we um... as a society um as a country we stop and we
understand the importance of education
and how it not only affects young people but it affects the entire society as a
whole um we will realize why it's important why we need to finance it
why we need to provide resources in communities that don't have the
educational resources
and i saw that growing up in the south versus up north it's completely
different with the educational system and i think that's what makes us who we
are that's what embodies us as american citizens and being able to
go into the employment you want a job done you don't want to just give it to anyone
but you wanna get it give it to someone who's competent and who's confident to get it
done and that's through education what would you say to the little kids out
there that say I want to be like her
uh... and there is someone saying well you can't be a lawyer
you're you're whatever you can't uh... go to college
what do you say that kid to to to help them
overcome some of those obstacles that are likely in their way
i will say like my parents uh... said to me and my grandparents don't be like me
be better than me
um... and I only use that because there are a number of people I know growing up
that says you can't be a lawyer you can be a teacher
and that's what i had in my mind i was going to teach because you're not gonna
you know
be this high up in life and only women can do certain things
and that kind of discouraged me but then i thought about it as i went through college
I'm like no i don't wanna be a teacher i want to be a lawyer
so therefore you have to get the negativity out of the way and you have
to stay focused on your dreams and like i said before if you keep
the end in mind
you will go forward
since i was younger Ive been a pretty
pretty competitive person
and uh...
I think I like to do um
a lot of things that people tell me i can't do
uh... especially from the standpoint of being in a disability
in a wheelchair
i think i've had to
overcome a lot of adversity
and that competitive edge
being an inspiration to other people with disabilities
is something that pushes me to keep going and
do more and more let me ask you about that i mean because you weren't you weren't
always in a wheelchair I wasn't 0:33:53.220,0:33:57.160 um... that had to be very for anyone but especially someone young and vibrant
like yourself that had to be a real adjustment i mean a lot of people might
have just said
I'm gonna pack it in but
your drive at least from what i've seen you drive seems to
to be ever-present it was a huge
change downfall in my life I guess you could say
but i really didn't start using a wheelchair until I was twenty two
so I have a pro progressive disease and
you know from the time i was maybe sixteen or seventeen
uh... I started like losing balance and having to
you know hold onto things so in a way when i was twenty two
it's almost a relief to be in a wheel chair 'cause I could
you know i could be independent again and I could do the things i wanted to do again
that was kinda nice
some people say that that
that the american the american dream the promise of america is
no longer reality what do you think it is
i think the american dream is a reality especially for me
i think
you know um...
I've always chased
that competitive feeling in being able to
be in law school and pursue a legal profession
being able to do something that I like
and get paid for it i mean
that's a huge plus that's the american dream right there do you see education as
uh... if not the
uh way out the most one of the most significant avenues out for people from
modest backgrounds I think so i think going to college
is definitely the first step and
uh... things have obviously changed since my parents were
you know younger
uh... now you really have to get an advanced degree
so education is really important
and i think about myself
you know if
if i didn't have a disability
if I wasn't you know pursuing all of these things
I don't know honestly
that i would have gone to college or I would have gone to law school
so I'm really thankful that i did did do that
'cause now i realize that
it is so important to pursue an education
you are
now the city counselor of uh... another older mill city uh... and uh...
there's an awful lot of other people that
uh... within that city that you now represent that are also trying to
find their way up that that that social ladder that the next rung up uh... right
what advice would you give to them as to how to
get out from the situation they see themselves in now I think
you know pursuing
pursuing something pursuing anything
really uh...
you know you gotta you gotta have some kind of job find something you love like
and just
go for it and i think that's really important
uh 'cause when you do find something you like
you are competitive and you do have that drive and
i think that's what's going for me now i mean
you know sitting in college and
you know sitting in high school
and taking classes you don't necessarily like or want to pursue
you know it's tough it really is and i think a lot of people are turned off by
but if you find something you really like
you pursue it you go hard and
uh... you don't give up what uh... impediments have you faced and overcome
along the way
uh... that
that uh... you now look back on and say well geez i thought that that was an
obstacle I'd never get passed but uh... perseverance and the like uh... I got
past it I think the biggest thing
uh... as we talked about before was going into a wheelchair
getting past that
i don't know
it was really hard to do
and I the week I actually got my wheelchair
the way i think i got over it I bought a cycle a hand cycle I have to say
the week after i'm sorry
and uh...
i just really um...
got into sports started meeting people and
I never was interested in talking to
anyone about my disability or meeting anyone with
just made me uncomfortable
like i think it makes a lot of people uncomfortable actually
and uh...
so yeah I bought the cycle and I started meeting people and
you know that was empowerment right there what about the the whole idea with
respect to politics I mean that has to be
just uh... another level of challenge that
I mean most of us uh...
would have trouble speaking in public to strangers
uh... period
you're a relatively young kid you still got law school you've got all these other
responsibilities and now you you embrace another difficult challenge that most
people would avoid how come
I've always liked helping people doing what i can
and I think from a young age middle school high school
I did
you know student council and
uh... student government and same in college
but when I was
I worked
uh... on a counsel that followed robert's rules and everything it was in the boy scouts
in a group called the order of the arrow
and I became a vice chief which was
you know you basically run
all of the elections and you go to
all the troops
and um... you give a presentation
I think at that age
i was fifteen and I really annoyed my parents that
they drove me to
you know every city in central mass
every tuesday and thursday
but uh...
that definitely got me started in
where i wanted to be in the future what would you
uh see as uh your future in public service what would you like to accomplish if
you have all your wishes you know uh... I really run on I ran
for city council on the platform that
i didn't i don't want to pursue politics on a national lever level
i really wanna
pursue uh
pursue law and i wanna pursue
maybe disability rights at some point
and i definitely won't to work for fitchburg
out of a love for the city
but i don't see myself
uh moving on
you know maybe state rep or senator
for my district but
not congress or
the actual senate
or anything like that
you have any uh... advice that you would give other people who are watching this
and saying i don't think i can do law school i don't think i can
run for politics i don't think just let someone else worry about all that
if you like it do it
i mean
i'm not going to sit here and lie to you law school
is one of the hardest things I've ever done
you know running for politics against
uh... two candidates who I was told from the start would beat me
you know these things are hard but
if it's something you really want if it's something you're eager for
pursue it
when my parents divorced we moved to lewiston which is a totally different town from
where i had grown up it was a small community in green maine
um... farm country
and then when we moved to lewiston it was uh... big city and um... so i a was
getting into trouble uh I was kicked out of school in the eighth grade
and they assigned me
to high school and i never even I never even went
uh... so i worked
in an old mail
uh a paper mill in lisbon falls
and uh... got my GED
i think i was uh... it was nineteen nine seven when I got my GED
so you studied not in school but you studied by books and everything else and
went to probably some classes to in order to get your high school equivalency
i i went to class three times and i sat for the
G the high school equivalency test and
i passed it and just continued to work
until i was twenty years old
and uh...
one of my old friends from green main um was starting to come around more often and he was
telling me about college
and he just fascinated me and i think at the same time i watched um rudy yeah
and i just
i got a passion so you found the spark at twenty yes I found the spark at twenty
I wanted that life that he was telling me about
i remember i wrote a college essay to get into the college it was notre
dame college and it ended up closing down later but
and i think this is the reason why i got in because i wrote a college essay to get in
there and I
littered that with coll-age collage instead of college uh huh
i couldn't spell i wrote call uh... collage instead of college
but they accepted me but i believe it was because
um they were closing down they needed money
and and they accepted me and I didn't do very well the nuns would call me
make sure I was awake
to come to class cuz i never
I never knew how to do math I never knew how to do writing cuz again i
never went to high school I just I think i got lucky on the GED test and
so a good boot in the ass from the nuns sent you on your way yes
they they helped me uh... they they
made me put the time in and the effort in
uh... then
when the school closed down the university of new england they
they accepted me because i was
part of the students that was part of the deal between notre dame and
university of new england i would have never had the grades to get into university of new england
best as part of the deal to get the p t students
they had to except everybody that wanted to go okay
so i was lucky again another
another door opened and ah... i just I took advantage of that so then at some point
you decide that even that's not enough after this rocky start yes uh... you
the college degree that you struggled to get but now that you've got even that
wasn't enough and you decide
law schools going to be your ultimate way out of
where you were at how come
uh i don't know how law school really
got into the picture uh... the only thing i could think of is a friend of
a friend of mine
we're talking he owns a couple mobile gas stations he's pretty successful
and he's always told me that
i'm one of the smartest people he's ever met but there's just something not connected
in my brain and that law school would probably fix that
and i i think he was right because uh... I'm not
I feel uh... law school has done
so many things for me i mean i have'nt i just graduated but
I I feel different about the world today I see it differently because of
law school now tell me about your
uh... struggles in law school because your not academic struggles but
there must be financial struggles there must be time constraints you were
actually commuting from uh...
maine middle maine central maine we'd call that to andover mass yes whenever you had
classes and were going to study here yes um...
that was my wife
probably uh... most instrumental in that she she mad it
so i could
i could come to school here without working i tried to do it at first
my first semester i'm gonna be honest i did not do very well you were trying to
work and you were trying to attend classes yes and you were commuting at least an
hour and a half each way yes and somehow you couldn't juggle all that I wasn't
doing very well i i i was on academic probation my first semester oh really
yes I didn't know that uh... no no one did except my advisor so was that
boot in the rear end that you needed that that
scared me 'cause i i i've always felt like when i put my mind to something
I I can accomplish it right and this was the first time in my life where I felt like
i wasn't able to do it and i
was on academic probation and I was so afraid that i wasn't going to make it
as you guys taught us in or orientation you have to put the time in
never in my life where somebody told me that you have to do something you really
have to do it it wasn't just
during orientation that was serious you you have to put the time in
and uh i'm so i was i ended up getting laid off from my job which i wouldn't
probably have
i wouldn't probably have left my job if I wouldn't gotten laid off 'cause you couldn't afford to
because i couldn't afford to my wife she's she's
she's the smartest person i know and she worked
she was she was in school too but
she was she had a job full-time and went to school
and supported us so she's working and going to school as well she's done now but yes
but at the time she's working and going to school you're working and going to school until you get
laid mm hmm
so what's driving the two of you just the the prospect of
when we're done this process we're going to have a much better life than
we ever could have hoped for earlier well i think that's what it exactly
was my wife grew up in eastern europe
she's from bulgaria and I grew up in lewiston
I actually lived in a couple of homeless shelters
uh... sometimes in my life so we both
i think that's we both wanted to succeed so we didn't have to do that wanted a
to take it up to the next plateau and you know our life's so we didn't have to struggle
like that ultimately the first year comes
uh you are able to pull yourself off probation and
and you figured it out now after
this rocky road you finally figured out how you learn best how you study
and how you can succeed at this that must have been quite a sense of personal
it was and it really showed during the final
the finals because i wasn't
nervous mm hmm i mean i was nervous but not like i was like i wasn't having a
heart attack yeah uh... but
i felt a little sense of confidence and that's what i did that's how i had to
study i had to...
pretend that i wanted to be a professional
and know everything about this subject
in order to pass it at the end of the year
and that's that's what i did i read the subject for ten hours a day whether it
was environmental law or torts do you still think that education
is able to provide that opportunity that historically
that that was the promise of america that with a good education you have
the tools to then be able to go out and achieve whatever it is that you want to
achieve i don't think it's a
clear line anymore i think maybe before
if you
got a law degree or got any degree
not just a law degree uh...
you're almost assured
of a job and success
if you put the time in during school and you got that degree i think now
uh... it's it's not quite to the point where it's uh...
a diminishing return
whatever that saying is but i think you have to
be more networked and i think
you have to
know people in order to get some jobs now because they're so tight
what advice would you give to that kid who's out there who might have been in a
similar situation to you and
you know doesn't doesn't care about school doesn't really think that
it's going to do him much good and
what advice would you give him
it's it's up to you
it's up to that that child
to get to where they want to be in life if they want to be successful no one
else is going to do it
for them except for yourself
so you have to find something from within
psychologists call that resilience if you're in a
you know poverty or if you have a hard life but
just do it
i mean you just have to do it you can't
you can't take the shortcuts you can't do anything you have to put the time in
you have to do the work
and I don't know i don't
they have to do it they can't they can't take shortcuts i think when I was a kid
and I imagined myself being
being an attorney
it was more you know i wanted to defend people because i come from a
huge family
my my i used to run around
you know the yard playing with my cousins and and
neighbors and
uh... I think what strikes me
from my childhood is that because you are with so many kids you had to defend
each other so i will always come out to defend
the ones that were you know
so and I felt like i was bullied as a child too so it's like that's
how I imagined it I was the big
the person that was coming to defend them
not with my physique because i was always tiny
but with my with my
and my family used to tell me you're going to be an attorney so it wasn't necessarily
a clear path
and and when i was in college when I was at u_-mass lowell
uh... I I only went to college because
I wanted to become an attorney
and then at some point there I realized that I wasn't sure i wasn't
how i was going to do this uh...
where was I going to
find the money to go to law school
and I spoke to all my professors and they said you don't have to you don't have to know
what you want yet
uh... you can go find a job and and figure it out as you go
uh... and that's when i started working for congressman marty meehan as an intern
uh... he was impressed by me
and uh... and uh offered me a job while i was still in in undergrad
and I
became the immigration
and during that time that's when I
found my love and passion for immigration law and the immigrant community
so uh
I decided that I was ready I was ready to go to law school because I
knew exactly what i wanted to do
and then maybe around that time that's when i imagined that
yes I'm going to have my own firm
and I'm going to do immigration law so
does it help doing immigration law being not born in this country and
uh... shared some of the same experiences as some of your clients have
i think that it
helps because you feel more connected to the cause you're an
I'm an immigrant
so being an immigrant helps the fact that I understand
the the difficulties of immigration and
how people come to this country even though i came to this country legally
and my father uh came to this country when i was four years old and he's lived
you know for his life
uh... for
me as an immigrant
to understand
the process of immigration already
and how so many people come to this country
uh... in many different ways so it is very helpful
how difficult was the journey I mean there must have been stumbles and falls
along the way to stick with
I'm gonna finish college and then I'm going to pick myself up and keep going through law
school i mean did you did you always see education
as sort of the way out to to that better
the better life that you were hoping to get well since I was very young
uh... I was i was a student and
I loved being a student I loved learning
uh... so it was never studying was never a problem for me
uh... my family saw me as the person who was always in school
uh for them because I'm the
the most educated person in my my entire family when I mean
my entire family I
mean my extended family as well
so uh
they will say to me are you always going to be in school when do you end when does school end for you
i because it wasn't what they were accustomed to
uh... so it
i wouldn't say that it was
easy it was it wasn't an easy process but i was so determined
that it was seamless
i remember uh... that when i finished high school um...
here because I did my
I came here in nineteen eighty eight from the dominican republic and
i did one year of high school my my senior year
so i finished high school I went to northern essex community college
to learn english
uh... so
when i was
learning english
i wasn't you know my father wanted me to go to uh
beauty school because he had
dreams and ideas of me becoming
uh... beauty salon owner that I was going to be 0:54:41.420,0:54:44.849 mrs. zoila marisol gomez because i was gonna
have my own business but that was his idea
of success
uh my father's idea of success he's a small business owner himself
uh I to me that was
that was sinking myself if i became
i hair dresser
and a beauty shop owner
that was it i was not going to be able to go anywhere i was going
to be stuck
so I pleased my father i did go to beauty school
but i did not get my license
so that uh
because I didn't get my license I couldn't really open a shop so I worked for
for for uh for a woman a friend of mine
uh... part-time and kept going to school kept going to school
so I uh I remember going to computer learning center
to learn computers because i wanted to work in an office i still didn't think
that i could go to law school i didn't think my english was
enough i didn't feel comfortable enough
that I could hold conversations like this without stumbling
I uh
I did a lot of different things like computer learning center
and then in two thousand nineteen ninety
three I got pregnant my son christopher was born
in nineteen ninety-four and when he was six months old i said i'm going back to
and I went back to northern essex and it was already with the focus of
going uh to uh... school
to finish uh... uh... four-year degree because i learned that i needed a
four-year degree in order to go to law school
then go to law school
so that's it didn't become clear right away it kind of uh
was something that I picked up along the way
uh... during the process of
figuring out how the system worked in this country
how was i going to pay for school
uh... so it took
a while
but once I knew
it was clear
so even with children you continued to persevere towards the the distant star of
trying to be a lawyer h
at some point then you do complete law school you complete
successfully taking the bar exam and uh... you're a lawyer with your own firm
and even
uh... still
now you're on the board
of the university of massachusetts
uh... so education
uh... you must see as really vital to
providing that
you know the american dream so to speak i think it's it's
very important if you don't
especially for somebody like me for somebody who's an immigrant who came to
this country
uh... you have to do it as you have to you have to be able to tell the
parents of those children that come to this country
how important education is
because they don't have that background
they don't they most of the immigrant community
their parents didn't go to school you don't get the
the immigrants who are educated
uh... coming to this country
in masses the ones who come to this country in masses are the ones who
have who are the poor the less educated
uh... so i think it's very important to
to teach and to reinforce
to the immigrant community how important it is to
reinforce education in their children
uh... and for the immigrant community to to be educated
i think is the only way out uh... of poverty
any advice you have to those uh...
that are out there and wanting to
achieve some of the success that
that you've achieved
i think it's free to dream
it's it's not it costs you nothing
to dream
and and and get to know yourself first get to know uh what is the environment that
you envision for yourself
uh... in which environment are you going to be happy so
my my advice will be that get to know yourself well
and and and it's free to dream dream
and and if you believe that you can be something
you definately can
we'd like to thank all of our guests for sharing their stories with us it seems that they all believe 0:59:01.839,0:59:04.560 mobility still exists today in america
so from the land of opportunity stay focused keep moving forward and you be well