From Housing Project to High Court

By Todd A. Smith

            Throughout Barack Obama’s historic run to the White House, his journey from humble beginnings to the highest office in the land was an inspiration to many minorities across the globe.

            As a result of his success, many began to realize that their dreams could in fact come true, despite their race or gender.  However, after taking office as the 44th President of the United States, that hope that many felt throughout the election gave way to the realities of the economic recession, health care problems and two wars in the Middle East.

            Nevertheless, Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, and her rise from humble beginnings to a possible seat on the high court, has allowed many minorities to dream again and realize that those hopes and dreams could definitely become a reality with hard work, dedication and perseverance.

            “When Sonia Sotomayor ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court in the land,” President Obama said, “America will have taken another important step towards realizing the ideal that is etched above its entrance: Equal justice under the law.”

            At age 54, Sotomayor is an Ivy League graduate, earning her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1976 and her law degree from Yale Law School in 1979.  She currently serves on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and has also served as a judge on the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York and as an assistant district attorney in New York County.

            However, her success in law is even more impressive when compared to her humble beginnings.  The story of the Sotomayor family is very similar to the story of many minority families across this great nation.

            She was raised in a housing project in the Bronx, the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants.  Her mother worked two jobs after the death of her father and at eight years of age, she learned how to inject herself with insulin to treat juvenile diabetes.  Sotomayor’s mother saved up her money to buy the future judge the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood.

            Those humble beginnings taught her the value of hard work, and television shows like “Perry Mason” provided her with inspiration to dream, and now those dreams have become a reality.

            “She is a brilliant person whose intellect is only overshadowed by her humility, which stems from being an ordinary person,” said Carlos Ortiz, chairman of the Supreme Court Committee in the Hispanic National Bar Association.  “She’s an ordinary American.”

            The fact that Sotomayor is an ordinary American from humble beginnings should serve as hope for all underprivileged youth, whether they are African American, Hispanic, male or female.

            Sotomayor and President Obama are daily reminders what can be accomplished through  hard work on the part of the child and the parent.  Sotomayor and her mother could have easily given up because of the conditions of the housing project or the death of the family patriarch, but they used that as motivations to not only reach for the stars, but also to never forget how far they had come in life.

            An old cliché states, “It’s not where you’re from but where you’re going.”  President Obama and Sotomayor prove that despite humble beginnings, you can go anywhere in life that your heart desires.


Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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