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Law students are awarded scholarships at the 30th annual Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania's scholarship reception event. Photo Credit: Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania. 
Law students are awarded scholarships at the 30th annual Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania's scholarship reception event. Photo Credit: Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania. 

HBAPA 30th Annual Scholarship Reception: A night of inspiration, diversity and advancement

Since 1989, the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania's Legal Education Fund has awarded scholarships to qualified diverse law students throughout the…

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The Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania’s 30th Annual Scholarship Reception event was a night of inspiration that showed the importance of diversity and inclusion within not just the legal field, but throughout society as a whole.

In a profession that impacts everyone, regardless of race, age, religion, orientation or class, lack of representation has life-altering consequences.

For that reason, in addition to the increasingly diverse nation we’re living in, the annual event is one that shines a beaming spotlight on the need for diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. The scholarships given at this event has helped countless diverse students, and future law professionals, gain access into a field that can be very difficult to enter. And having diverse people within the profession who can help the next generation of diverse individuals with aspirations of entering the field can go a tremendously long way. 

That was the message relayed by James P. Faunes, vice president of the HBAPA, and president of the Association’s Legal Education Fund (LEF).

“In addition to financial resources, one thing that the fund has always done is attempt to connect those students with mentor relationships and a network that is broad, and can help them along their path,” he said.

The event featured several speakers, including Mayor Jim Kenney, who expressed the significant impact that access to valuable resources can have towards achieving long-term success.

“To have a successful career in law, years of education is a must, and ensuring that we have the talented and qualified lawyers who can support and represent our diverse communities is also a must,” said Mayor Kenney. “That’s why it’s so important that our students have access to resources, financial aid, and network with people and mentors who can guide them and help them reach their goals.”

When looking at the diverse population not only from the city or state level, but also nationwide, having a legal community that can mirror that level of diversity could make a world of difference. 

A diverse field of lawyers with varied backgrounds, thoughts and ways of creating solutions is one of the most effective ways of accomplishing significant work. 

Gisele Baretto Fetterman, second lady of Pennsylvania and keynote speaker at the event, shared that sentiment when reflecting on her own experiences.

“The work that I’ve done has always been guided by my immigrant experience,” she said.

When she moved to the United States from Brazil as a child, she endured some of the harsh realities that often occurs when moving to another country. She recalled the need she and her family had for an attorney who “looked like us, who understood our culture, [and] who understood our language.”

Coming to a country with barriers to basic needs, especially for immigrants, Fetterman started to question why things are done the way they are. That different mindset is what has aided her in creating three nonprofits: Freestore 15104, where surplus and donated goods are received and redistributed to neighbors in need; 412 Food Rescue, a community wide effort to end hunger and reduce food waste; and For Good PGH, a non-profit that works to advocate inclusion and inspire kindness.

Fetterman admires the fact that she can use her role as second lady and experience as an immigrant to aid her work, and help the next generation to do similar work.

“I’m really honored to be the first Latina in this role, but I don’t want to be the last,” she said. 

Individuals have an opportunity to write their own stories in many cases, in spite of the story the world may try to write prematurely, said Yvette Núñez, vice president of civic affairs for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and honoree at the event.

As a woman of color from a poverty-stricken neighborhood who had been born into a family dealing with addiction, it could have been easy for Núñez to let that define her path in life. But instead, she said, she “kept walking.”

Núñez became the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, and is the first Latina executive of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s more than 200-year history. 

“I walk so that my children and that all of tonight’s scholarship recipients know that they too can keep walking, no matter what the rule says about them and where they should be,” she added. “Just as I stand before you as an example of what we commonly consider an exception to the rule, I encourage you to consider that we shouldn’t be defining a person’s worth, their value on this earth, and certainly not their dignity on a rule.”

The seven students who were awarded scholarships during the event represented Temple, Drexel, Villanova, UPenn, and Rutgers law schools. Each student served as shining examples of what diversity means in law and society, and the impact of embracing that diversity rather than hiding it.

The LEF is a non-profit organization dedicated to the professional and educational advancement of Latinos in the legal profession.

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