After graduating from Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School, Ronald Gomez didn’t let his educational journey in Los Angeles end there. Since Ánimo Inglewood, Gomez has attended the University of California Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University, and the University of Southern California, studying political science and government, urban education, and law. Cristina de Jesus, President and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California, remembers Gomez as amazingly gifted and talented. “He was a hardworking student and just an all around great human being,” she said.
Today, Gomez chairs the high school scholarship committee at the Mexican American Bar Association, and is deeply committed to helping Latino students to pursue legal education. We had the opportunity to learn more about Gomez’s career as a lawyer and how he is giving back to his community.
Question: What are some of the experiences and opportunities you had at Ánimo Inglewood that still stand out to you today?
Ronald Gomez: I went to Ánimo Inglewood my first semester of ninth grade coming from more traditional schools in the district. Going into that environment [of a small school] was really helpful. It's what I needed. There wasn't a school like it at the time in Inglewood. Ánimo Inglewood really gave me a sense of family that I didn't have before in an educational setting, I still keep in touch with my teachers. I think for me the main thing in terms of pathways to opportunity was that it set this expectation that we were all going to go to college. Obviously, being [a first generation college student is] not something that I had thought about. For me, that was the most transformational.
I've now graduated from top schools in L.A. but at the time, it didn’t seem realistic. That shift in mindset didn't happen overnight. Even when I was applying to colleges, and I was getting in, I don't think I realized that I could actually finish school and succeed in higher education. Had it not been for Ánimo Inglewood helping me navigate all the financial aid issues, all the grants, and really educating me on all of the ways in which I could make up for lack of money and lack of education regarding how to navigate these institutions, I wouldn't have gone to college.
What inspired you to pursue a law degree after your undergraduate education?
Honestly, I just wanted to make a difference in the community. I've never lost touch with being from Inglewood and being in L.A. I thought the law was a natural step to take. Because the thing is, you know, the law, it's everywhere. We're a nation of laws. And I think you really can't change the law if you don't understand what the law is. That was sort of my mindset. I wanted to be a lawyer and use these skills to advocate for social justice.
You have experience as a pro bono attorney. What does that mean to be able to give back to members of your community?
I was in private practice before, and I wanted to stay involved in the community. So, I connected with the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, and they gave me a case where I represented a woman who was on the verge of becoming houseless because she was being evicted. I always faced housing insecurity growing up, so that's an area of the law that I'm really passionate about. There were a lot of overlaps, my client immigrated from Central America as both of my parents did. I know that access to an attorney will make all the difference, and it actually really did in that case. I ended up figuring out that they were unlawfully evicting her and I got the case dismissed pretty quickly. Before I got in touch with her, she had basically given up and figured it was only a matter of time until she would be houseless. This experience confirmed my desire to work in public interest full time. And so that's what I'm doing now as a public defender, which is the job that I always kind of knew I'd be doing.
How do you envision your future in terms of continuing to be involved in your community?
I am still really passionate. I taught for six years about educational equity. So, I want to continue being involved in advocating for educational policies that are equitable. I recently ran unsuccessfully for the school board in Inglewood. I lost, but we started a coalition called the Inglewood Coalition for Education Equity and advocate against school closures in the community. We're educating the community and reaching out to other organizations that can help.
What advice would you give to young students who are considering pursuing law?
I would say, first of all, be persistent. Make the decision that you're going to be a lawyer and just do it because if I can do it, anyone can do it. To any young kid that wants to be an attorney: I'll talk to you about it. You can shadow me for a year. Stick with it and don't let anyone tell you that you can't.