Office of Diversity Affairs

Arias Knows Latino Role Models Are Essential For Success

Jonathan Arias

Jonathan Arias

Jonathan Arias doesn't give up easily, and he tries to convince other young Latinos that perseverance and education are the keys to success.

Arias, who will receive a J.D. degree in May from The John Marshall Law School, is willing to stand as a role model for young people in his community.

"When I was 17, my best friend was shot and killed. Within a mile radius of my house in Chicago's Little Village, seven of my friends were shot during the summer of '95. It was tough to stay focused, but I kept at it. I'd wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid," he said.

"What happened in my neighborhood forced me out of the city. After I graduated from Whitney Young Magnet High School, I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for college. It was very tough for me. I was out of my element. My high school was very diverse and then to go to Madison, where it was the exact opposite, was tricky."

After graduation, Arias has worked with community organizations that helped families with housing, immigration issues and youth and gang problems. He later worked with Presiding Judge Curtis Heaston in the Juvenile Justice Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

After graduation, Arias worked with a community organization that was helping families with housing and immigration issues and youth and gang problems. (Can't remember if you worked for the judge, or this job put you in touch with the judge.) He later worked with Judge Curtis Heason in the Juvenile Justice Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

"Everything I did helped me understand what's needed for a stable environment for children," Arias explained. "I worked with the mayor's office, the Chicago public schools, mental health providers, representatives of the courts. I found that they all were dedicated to the philosophy of balanced and restorative justice. You work to stabilize a situation and offer the residents help and opportunities."

Arias looked for other outlets to help youth. "At that point, I was dealing with kids only in trouble. I needed to move into another area that could remind me about the good in kids. I started coaching the Harrison Park Jets football team. I found myself being a role model for youth." He continued coaching through his law school career.

Arias knows he's fortunate. He was given opportunities that advanced his education and set him on a career path. Arias doesn't want to be an exception, though. He wants to make certain that others in his community know there are Latinos who are making a difference.

That's why Arias dedicated hours of time as co-chair of the Illinois Latino Law Student Association a collaboration of all Latino Law Student Organizations from each of the Law Schools around Illinois (ILLSA). Arias and ILLSA conducted the 6th annual Illinois Latino Law Forum. The February 2009 program drew more than 125 students to the law school.

Latino attorneys in business and government, members of the judiciary, and law school representatives addressed high school and college students at the day-long program designed to show access and opportunity to those who may feel they have had limited options.

Topics covered included what education credentials law students need; what a career in the law has to offer; and how to apply for and succeed in law school.

Participants represented Loyola University-Chicago School of Law; DePaul University College of Law; Northern Illinois University College of Law; Valparaiso University School of Law; University of Chicago School of Law; IIT/Chicago-Kent College of Law; and University of Illinois College of Law at Urbana-Champaign.

"The young people in my community have many role models. I wanted to get them to look at a world outside their family and neighborhood and to see other Latino success stories. The forum was a real eye-opener for many of these students," he explained.

"The law forum was about access and showing Latino youth that people who are from their backgrounds—from those taking care of younger brothers and sisters, immigrant families, people working multiple jobs, or male dominated households—can achieve through education. They can become successful lawyers who can go on to help the Latino community through their work," he said.

Arias plans a legal career in public service. He has been working at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office for a year and hopes to work full-time for the office after graduation.

"John Marshall provided me with great hands-on experience, and in the community of lawyers, John Marshall has the best reputation for public interest attorneys," Arias added.

Arias continues to live in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.