Brenda Marrero’s Acceptance Speech for the 2021 Sonia Sotomayor Award

On July 28, 2021 our Executive Director Brenda Marrero received the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Award from the Philadelphia Bar Association at the organization’s summer quarterly and reception. The award is given annually to honor strong commitment to promoting full and equal participation and inclusion in the legal profession.

The Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award was named in honor of Justice Sotomayor, who is the first Latina and third woman to become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In her remarks, Brenda spoke to the importance of sharing diverse personal stories from people with many different life experiences, and how these stories can inspire hope in the face of adversity. 

I am beyond humbled and so grateful to be standing here in front of all of you accepting this award. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined that one day I would be the recipient of an award named after the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Thank you for giving me this honor, for acknowledging me in such a deeply meaningful way, and for embracing me with open arms in this legal community. I will treasure this moment.

A million gracias to the Hispanic Bar Association for nominating me for this award. I want to give a special HUGE thanks to JP Faunes, the President of the HBA, and to the duo who put together the nomination packet– Fernando Rivera and Gustavo Cardona. Thank you for having faith in me and my accomplishments, and for holding me up in this way. The HBA was one of the first organizations I joined as a law student, in my 1L year at Temple Law. Thank you for 23 years of leadership, acceptance, friendship and belonging.

And of course, thank you to the Philadelphia Bar Association, Al Dandridge and the Sotomayor nominations committee. I was lucky enough to be there when Justice Sotomayor received the inaugural award. That memory is a highlight of my career, and I did not think that could be topped. But today you have topped it. Thank you to the Association for honoring me in this way. Thank you for creating this award and annually acknowledging Justice Sotomayor’s spirit, values and accomplishments with each honorable recipient; and thank you for all the work I know you are doing in advancing the principles and values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in our legal profession. I am honored to be part of this work that I hold so dear.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge my daily support system—mi familia, whose love and apoyo has gotten me to where I am today; my mom and sisters are some of the strongest women I know, and I am blessed to have close friends who have given me advice, wisdom and much needed laughter in some of my most trying times. My husband Ron is my biggest cheerleader, and not far behind are my two boys, Anthony and Andrew. Anthony, it means the world to me that you are here today watching me get this award; and Andrew—I know you are watching at home buddy. Everything I do, and the sacrifices I make, all of it is for a larger purpose—each day, whether you know it or not, you and Andrew inspire me in every way. Just know that the two of you are the reason I strive to be my best, in every role I take on in life, and why I have worked so hard to advance myself in my career, because I want to do my part to leave this world in a little bit of a better place for you both. I love you boys more than I’ll ever be able to express.

This award honors an individual who has demonstrated a strong commitment to promoting full and equal participation and inclusion in the legal profession. In writing this speech, I reflected a lot on that statement. I thought, what can I say to a room full of the best and brightest legal minds in our Philadelphia community that can have an impact, what can be helpful in continuing to advance and promote that full and equal participation and inclusion in our legal profession.

So I went to Justice Sotomayor’s memoir, “My Beloved World,” for wisdom and inspiration. In the preface to her memoir, Justice Sotomayor shared why she embarked on this monumental task of writing about her personal story.

She wrote that since her appointment to the Supreme Court, she had spoken to a wide variety of groups in different settings, and she would get all sorts of questions. Justice Sotomayor said in her memoir:

“Underlying all these questions was a sense that my life’s story touches people because it resonates with their own circumstances. The challenges I have faced—among them material poverty, chronic illness, and being raised by a single mother—are not uncommon but neither have they kept me from uncommon achievements. For many it is a source of hope to see someone realize her dreams while bearing such burdens.”

She goes on to ask a series of questions – how has adversity spurred her on instead of knocking her down; and asking what are the sources of her own hope and optimism. She wrote: “Most essentially, my purpose in writing is to make my hopeful example accessible. People who live in difficult circumstances need to know that happy endings are possible.”

And she is so right. When I embarked on learning about and advancing DEI work in legal services, it was scary, at times overwhelming, and many times it required a certain level of vulnerability. I found I was most vulnerable when I shared my own personal story–my own challenges, my struggles but also my successes. This work has shown me that sharing my personal story–with young people, law students, staff members looking to me for leadership, groups of lawyers who are committed to doing their part to advance DEI in their firms or organizations—promotes the exact type of accessibility to something we often overlook in our conversations about DEI—hope. Hope that by embracing our differences, celebrating diversity with authenticity, creating inclusive environments where people like me and my fellow Latina lawyers feel like they belong—we will realize the promise of equity in our legal profession.

Some of you in the audience have heard me talk about my journey, my non-linear path to public interest lawyering, but also my inner struggles to find a sense of belonging, and how much I have had to fight off my insecurities to believe that I DO belong at the table where decisions are made—and what I ask of you all today, in the spirit of this award and Justice Sotomayor’s example, is to share your personal story, and make that hopeful example accessible to those who need it most. Imagine the optimism you could spur in others.

Find that opportunity to talk to a young person who is not sure if they can make it to law school because they question whether they have the smarts or the resources to get there. Find that law student who is navigating personal or academic challenges and talk to them about what you went through, how you got through it, who you leaned on and what you learned every time you failed. Find that young lawyer who is so unsure of themselves because they are still struggling to find their voice, and talk to them about how you found your voice.

“We all need that hope, those examples of success, we need mentors and sponsors, people who will support us and share with us how their adversity spurred them on instead of knocking them down.”

Every time we share our story, we advance the principles of diversity and inclusion in this profession and we show others that they belong too. We all need that hope, those examples of success, we need mentors and sponsors, people who will support us and share with us how their adversity spurred them on instead of knocking them down. Each time we do that, we honor Justice Sotomayor’s resilience of spirit, her values and her purpose for sharing herself with us in such a poignant way in her memoir.

Justice Sotomayor is the first Latina to serve on the US Supreme Court. Her “firsts” inspire me. And so, I am honored to be the new Executive Director of The Public Interest Law Center and the first Latina to lead the organization. And what a journey to get here—my path was a true example of resilience, a fiery will to succeed and beat the odds. I am so proud to be representing Latina lawyers in executive leadership, and I do not and will not take that privilege for granted. I value the partnerships our organization has. Together with so many of you the Law Center furthers its mission with each step, each day. And I promise you that every opportunity I have to use my role and my visibility to make my hopeful example accessible, I am going to make the time to do it.

When the Law Center announced my appointment as the new Executive Director, colleagues from Rutgers Law, Jill Friedman and Pam Mertsocke-Wolfe, sent me the most beautiful print of Justice Sotomayor. When I opened that gift, I cried happy tears. What a beautiful message from the universe that I find myself here with you all today, being honored in her name. On that print is a beautiful quote, and when I was reading the Preface to Justice Sotomayor’s memoir I was happy to come across it again, and reading it in full context resonated with me even more. Justice Sotomayor wrote:

“Experience has taught me that you cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true. Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move you forward. And after a time you may recognize that the proper measure of success is not how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal, but the quality of what you’ve done today.”

I hope today, I have done something that speaks to that quality. Thank you all for this cherished honor.