Last month I organized a pro bono volunteer day to celebrate what I call my #FightBackBirthday.
For a while I’d been thinking about how I could spend my birthday fighting against some of the injustices in our society. Many of these injustices stem from the fact that low-income people do not have the same access to the legal system, or legal help, as do people with means. That’s especially the case for vulnerable individuals, such as immigrants. As a lawyer starting my career, I am especially aware of how privileged I am to be able to practice law and of the responsibility that comes with that privilege. I will never forget what Professor Sovern said to all of the first-year students in my law school section at the end of our introductory legal methods class: “As lawyers your job is to do well, and do good.” It seemed to me that exercising my agency, and connecting with the power that I have to improve the world, would be a good way to celebrate being alive.
When MoFo’s pro bono team circulated a flyer seeking volunteers to staff a naturalization clinic happening only two days before my actual birthday, it all clicked in my mind! The clinic presented the perfect platform for my celebration. It was open to attorneys and non-attorneys, thus allowing me to include my non-attorney friends. The pro bono team helped coordinate an online training, to make it easy for me and the other celebrants to prepare for the clinic, and they facilitated the communication with the organization hosting the event, the International Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA). The pro bono team and the IIBA did not hesitate to offer their assistance and expertise.
With a proposed plan in place, I then emailed all my friends to ask if they would be willing to give up their Saturday to spend a full day volunteering with me at a clinic. I assumed no one would be too keen to spend their weekend working, not to mention two hours watching an online training, so I offered to reward all of those who joined me with a delicious Colombian feast, cooked by non-other than Mama Hoyos (my mother).
To my surprise, almost everyone I invited accepted my invitation. My friends were actually excited to spend their day volunteering for a cause that was important to me. Looking back now I realize I shouldn’t have been that surprised, these people are my friends for good reasons.
At the clinic we met with individuals who were excited to take the next step and become U.S. citizens, but who could not have completed the complex forms without help. Their stories reminded me of my own experience as a naturalized citizen. I am proud to say we were part of an effort that resulted in 300+ permanent residents completing their N-400 forms to become naturalized U.S. citizens. It has been a tough year, but knowing that I have friends who are willing to wake up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to spend their day making a real difference in people’s lives has renewed my sense of hope and purpose. We did well, and we also did good.
I owe a very special thanks to MoFo’s Pro Bono Group, for their unwavering support, and to the International Institute of the Bay Area for hosting us!
All smiles from the #FightBackBirthday volunteers!
Luis Gabriel Hoyos working with a client.
More than 300 people attended the clinic in San Francisco.
Luis Gabriel Hoyos celebrates with Mama Hoyos.