I first met Jimmy when he was selected as the Samuel Kossack Award winner for 2016. I learned what an exceptional leader he was and wanted to sit down and ask him some questions to understand where his passion to help others comes from and how he manages to balance his life and community leadership.
Jaime “Jimmy” Figueroa is a 3L, husband, father, community leader, and extern for the Public Defender’s Office. He is also a Commissioner on the North County Gang Commission, as well as serves on the Leadership Team of Oceanside Promise, an organization that works with the Oceanside School District to increase the high school, trade school, or college rates. In addition, he regularly speaks at youth events, conferences, or classrooms as much as possible to highlight the importance of education and resources. Most recently, Jimmy along with his former students and other community leaders, were successful in getting a much needed direct bus line to Mira Costa College. Prior to coming to law school, he served as the supervisor of the Vista Community Clinic Project REACH. It was through his continued contact with his students that he learned that the commute was one to two hours to get to college. A problem was presented, so he needed to figure out how to solve the problem and find the right help to make it happen. You will learn that this is indicative of who he is; someone in the community that tries to understand the needs of the people and find a way to increase their opportunities.
When I asked Jimmy why he chose law school, he talked about growing up in Oceanside and the probability that minority males were more likely to be incarcerated than to be college graduates. The reality of the area was about limited opportunities, sometimes fractured families, and sometimes negative influences. He believed that if he could make inroads in those areas, he could have an impact on people, families, and his community. Coming to law school helps him create change on a larger scale. His experience working with community leaders and affected members of the community has allowed him to see change happen. He has been able to utilize the skills he learned as a supervisor, as well as a law student, to help others see opportunity exists and the confidence to change their lives.
Jimmy started law school at Thomas Jefferson in 2015. Staying connected to his community, family, and church were all important to him. With a family that includes two small children, I wondered how he was able to balance all of those roles. What he shared with me was that his life is structured and although he sometimes has to be flexible, time is allocated for all the important things. His family is extremely important to him and he is very proud of them. There have been challenges and struggles that included his wife being hospitalized and bedridden with their second child who was born just hours before his Professional Responsibility final. Sadly, that also included a call that he lost one of his students due to a drive-by shooting. Although he has a busy, challenging schedule, he has not forgotten those he cares about and he continues to assist with former students’ cases as much as possible and also shares in the victories of graduations and award ceremonies.
As a community leader, I wanted to know what Jimmy attributes his success to and what advice he could give to other students who want to effect change within their communities. As I mentioned, Jimmy is very connected with his community. Although he left to attend undergraduate college, he returned and was an active, engaged member. He also learned a great deal through his professional roles within the community. For him, he is very attentive to what is going on, looks at the contributing factors of the problem, does a tremendous amount of research, learns who can assist him, and partners with the right people. He brings in his former students as part of the process so that they can also effect change and continue to be leaders. Jimmy shared that he is often asked by his law school peers why he spends so much time outside of the classroom on his community activities. The driving force behind his commitment is a sense of urgency. He told me that when you see people around you going to jail, unemployed, who lack services, or are dying, you need to act with a sense of urgency. It is his belief that everyone in our school has skills and assets that they can provide to their community or a group in need. When I asked him how students should get involved within their own communities, he suggested to find their passion, what speaks to their heart, do their research, and get to understand the dynamics of systems, and understand the complexity of local and larger government entities.
I hope that Jimmy’s story will influence you to go out and make a positive change within your own lives and communities.