05 Aug Love Letter to New York City: Fred Rooney & Legal Incubators
LOVE LETTER // NYC
Fred Rooney, Legal Incubators, and Access to Justice
16 years ago was the first time I heard your name.
I remember it as if it were yesterday.
“There is this guy you should meet;
His name is Fred Rooney.”
Little did I know how many times I’d say that name, all the places I’d travel with you, what you’d mean to me, and how you’d shape my life.
I was 23 and walking down the hall at my law school, the City University of New York (CUNY). The law school’s security guard, Glen, told me about this man named Fred Rooney. He spoke fluent Spanish and worked at the law school.
Before coming to law school, I had spent the last year in San Francisco as an Americorps member. I started learning basic phrases in Spanish, and one of my primary motivators for coming to CUNY, was to spend my summer creating international human rights projects in Spanish speaking countries. I was eager to meet you, Fred.
I went home that night and googled your name. I looked for images of you so I’d know how to recognize you around the school. The next day, you walked out of the bathroom as I was walking in. You opened the door for me. How appropriate. You’ve been doing that ever since we met.
We talked in the hallway for a few minutes about Latin America, dreams, and the wild degrees of separation that ultimately united us.
“We are going to do a lot of good work and have a great time together,” you told me with that warm and charming smile.
We have. We have.
You deserve a lifetime of love letters. If the world could write, I am confident she’d choose you as her muse, her subject, her protagonist.
Fred Rooney, you have opened doors to me that have shown me a different way to live.
You brought me to the Dominican Republic, where we set up a project in an orphanage. I lived with 125 kids. I learned Spanish through their stories and songs. We worked to remove a massive garbage dump behind the orphanage that was contaminating the air and making the kids sick. For the first time, I broke bread with people that looked nothing like me. For the first time, I lived in conditions I never knew existed.
You invited me to join you in Colombia. Initially, I said no. I had just moved back to New York City and wanted to settle in. You insisted. Just come, it’s only a week, and I think it will be a meaningful trip, you kept saying. I went, and while we only stayed a week, the journey lasted much longer. I’d spend 3 months a year in Colombia over the next several years. I fell in love with the country. I gave my first business conference in Spanish. It is the country I would eventually do my Fulbright project, another endeavor you encouraged me to pursue and guided me through to completion.
You then told me about this place called Sofia, Bulgaria. A unique city in the Balkans where you were doing your Fulbright. You included me in the launch of the first legal incubator in Eastern Europe. You trusted me with the storytelling and documentation of a monumental milestone in your endlessly creative and generous career. We traveled to the Roma communities, met with local politicians and media, and I was able to watch you shine, as you always do.
” I used to think I could change the world, but I quickly understood that was not possible. But I did realize that by collectively helping one person at a time, we are able to change the world.”
But it’s not just gateways to the world’s places you’ve opened to me. You have shown me what lives behind other doors, the sides of you that others may not see.
I have watched you bring children to the United States for life-saving surgeries. I have seen you bring young lawyers from around the world to access some of the most prestigious chambers, offering them internships, jobs, and a fresh start at serving humanity. I have seen you organize conferences that make changes around human trafficking, gender violence, asylum and refugee issues, and so many more.
I have watched you tirelessly take call after call, most of which have been other people asking for help for life’s most important issues; helping them get their heat turned back on in the dead of winter, papers for legal work opportunities, hospice, wills, citizenship issues. You take the calls, and then you make the calls to resolve issue after issue. I am in awe of your bandwidth to serve. I am in adoration of the speed behind your solutions.
You have opened doors to new lawyers around the world who want to start legal practices that serve communities that typically don’t have access to legal justice. Your humble approach to leadership opens the hearts and minds of all those that see you as a mentor. Your fierce commitment to justice gives us courage to find and fight for something we hold as deeply true. Your kind disposition in the face of constant chaos offers me a perspective of peace as power. Your willingness to work for what others deem impossible makes me feel like nothing actually is, impossible.
I could write word after word about the wonder that you represent to me. A man who rescued kidnapped children, who eats for peace, who offers his home to complete strangers with no check-out date. A man who loves his family. A man who is a citizen of the globe that he fights, day and night, to make things more equitable for all of us. A warrior of peace, a king of kindness, a dedicated servant to those the rest of the world turns a blind eye. Someone who has this truly unique capacity to thrive in multiple realms of reality; just as comfortable at the dinner table of a billionaire as you are on the floor in the slums of India.
Fred Rooney, for as much as you embrace this Earth and make those of us who surround you feel its humanity, I must say.
There is something absolutely other-wordly about you.
I’ve called you an angel in the past, but that does not even capture the entirety of you. Because the angelic spirit lives and flies around someone that is not on this Earthly plane.
And you, my dear man, are not only living on this plane, but you are knee deep in its grit, with one hand deep in its soil building and guiding us towards a new future of fairness. And the other, opening doors. For every single person that has the good fortune and blessing of passing whatever door, in whatever city of whatever country you are in that moment; their life is about to get better. A lot better. I know mine has.
Of all the things you “do,” this is what I most love about you.
You make us better. All of us.
One life at a time changes, all because yours exists.
“There is this guy you should meet. His name is Fred Rooney.”
This has been one of my most unequivocal truths and one of my greatest blessings.
I thank life every single day that I met you,
Meet Fred Rooney, founder of the Legal Incubator model, and a blessing to all who know him.
Thanks for reading!
This letter is a part of Brian Rashid’s “Love Letters to the World,” a global initiative bringing stories of hope, humanity, and travel/tourism to our world.
A huge thanks to Bradley Tusk, the sponsor of this series called, “Love Letters to New York City.” Bradley is owner of Tusk ventures and Founder of P&T Knitwear.
You can find their story, here.
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Thank you so much for being here on what is literally my dream coming true.
Oh so true!