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Alumni Almanac

BLAPA Honored by its Honorees

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“Tonight is really about gratitude, yearning and learning, and devotion,” said Natalie Gomez-Velez ’89, one of three honorees at the annual Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association (BLAPA) dinner, held in honor of graduates and student scholarship recipients of color.

Gomez-Velez (above right), who serves as special counsel to Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman ’68 of the New York State Unified Court System, aptly summed up the spirit of an evening that was defined by the graciousness of its honored guests. Her ties to the Law School are strong — she served as an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice and taught in the Lawyering Program — and also very personal. Gomez-Velez met her husband, Roberto Velez ’89, in their first-year Civil Procedure class.

Dean Richard Revesz opened this year’s dinner by thanking BLAPA for its contributions to the Law School community. The dean reflected on the Law School’s continued commitment to support students in public service endeavors, detailing the efforts that have been made to sustain the Loan Repayment Assistance Program and to revamp the Public Interest Law Center.

Each year, BLAPA’s alumni honorees are chosen based on their work and contributions to the minority and legal communities. Martha Stark ’86 (above left), commissioner of the New York City Department of Finance, was the first award recipient. Stark has an impressive career in government, especially on the local level. She has written extensively on the New York City property tax and is co-author of an influential Law School study on the high cost of building and renovating housing in the city. Calling herself “Martha the Tax Collector,” Stark said that her father started her on the path to becoming a lawyer and finance commissioner by teaching her how to prepare tax returns as a young teenager.

In reflecting on her upbringing in the projects of Brownsville, Stark expressed her sincere gratitude to BLAPA. “I know where I came from and the role of the Law School in making my attendance here possible,” she said.

The second honoree, Donna Lee ’91 (above center), is a professor in Brooklyn Law School’s Federal Litigation Clinic and formerly taught in the Lawyering Program at NYU School of Law. As a student, she was co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) and received the Vanderbilt Medal for her contributions to the Law School community.

Lee took a moment to express what makes BLAPA special. “We don’t just network and share opportunities and information, we socialize together and have fun together,” she said, adding that the award “really belongs to all of you.”

Following the alumni presentation, three students were named to the eighth class of BLAPA Public Service Scholarship recipients. BLAPA Treasurer Patrick Michel (’96) described the scholarships as a way of honoring and assisting students who have made a commitment to public service and continue to do so.

Benita Jain ’03, co-chair of South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA) and a member of the Coalition for Legal Recruiting, was the first recipient. This year, Jain was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship to provide legal services to immigrant communities after graduation. She expressed special thanks to SALSA and the other minority law student associations for being instrumental in helping students of color.

Hector Linares ’03, an active member of the Latino Law Students Association (LaLSA) executive board, received a scholarship for his public interest contributions, which include his work for the Community Outreach and Education Clinic and his role as a translator for the Immigrant Rights Clinic. He thanked the Law School for providing “safe havens” for public-interest-minded students and students of color. Linares also thanked BLAPA for “recognizing that we still have a long way to go.”

“The gains we have made are not secure,” he said. “Every day people are working to take away what we have achieved.”

Patricia Abreu ’03, who also was awarded a scholarship, has been involved with the Community Outreach and Education Organizing Clinic, the Door’s Legal Services Center, and the Family Defense Clinic in Brooklyn Family Court. After graduation, she plans to return to Brooklyn Family Court as a law guardian. Abreu shared her hope that “in the future, the administration, current students, and alumni can work together to increase diversity at NYU for the benefit of our Law School, the legal community at large, and the clients that we serve.”

The honorees and the scholarship recipients were a source of inspiration for alumna Deanna Grace Logan (’95). “It’s important for me to come back and see who is following in our footsteps because the scholarship was a huge help for me,” said Logan, who was part of the first class to receive BLAPA scholarships. “I try, even being in public service, to make sure that I give back so that others can benefit.”

Other guests at the dinner shared her enthusiasm for BLAPA, the annual dinner, and everything they represent. BLAPA Vice President Michelle Meertens (’97) said that she was struck by the energy in the room and the sense of warmth and family between the alumni and current students. BLAPA class representative Leander Gray (’97) commented that because law is one of the least integrated professions in the country, the annual BLAPA dinner is especially invigorating.

“While the history of Black, Latino, Asian Pacific, and other underrepresented minorities at the Law School is, unfortunately, a short one, it is becoming more enriched every day by the accomplishments of the students and alumni who form the BLAPA family,” said Gray. “Participating in honoring some of them each year is gratifying, as well as inspirational.”