The path to your dream loses direction if you forget those who helped and supported you along the way.—From Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for JusticeThis is the passage from my book Living Peace that resonates most with me and the one that I share with my UCLA students. An activist life is a journey towards justice filled with many connections with people who guide and support you along the way. Senator Tim Kaine was one of those invaluable connections for me. Professor Kaine was my legal ethics professor back in 1990 at the University of Richmond School of Law, where he began teaching in 1987 for six years, and again in 2010 until 2012, when he was elected U.S Senator.
Taking Professor Kaine’s class was an experience that continues to teach me today. He taught me that the meaning of ethics and principles go way beyond the written word of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct. To fully accomplish and live out our ethical values, we need the heart-to-heart connection. Interconnectedness between all of us is an important and indispensable part of an activist life. It is when we become interwoven with the lives of those around us that our ethics and values become the focal point from which we are connected. I remember how Professor Kaine made each ethical principle that we learned in class come to life with stories from his civil rights work. He put a human face to every class lesson.
The law in itself is a power dynamic where a law school education instills in its students a status of privilege. This process of bestowing a privileged status begins from upon admission to law school. I learned from Professor Kaine’s class that instead of trying to deny this status, you must learn to embrace it, acknowledge it, and never let it control your relationship with those who seek justice. Professor Kaine taught me to never let my privileged status overtake me and cause me to believe that I am the smartest person in a room full of organizers, activists, and community members.
Today, I have the great opportunity to teach law students as a Lecturer in Law at UCLA Law School through its Critical Race Studies program and the David J. Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy program. As Professor Kaine did with me, I try to instill in my law students the humility and compassion that should go hand in hand with their ability to argue and analyze.
Professor Kaine’s genuine humility and calming presence appealed to my non-violent principle of engaging in active listening with our heart, which will then enable us to speak through compassion and mindful speech, and not anger, frustration or fear. Professor Kaine instilled in me and others the essence of justice that Judge Learned Hand referred to when he said: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”
Immigrant Rights and Labor Activist
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