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Helping Kids See a Different Reality


Vol. 40 No. 1
ByMatthew Gorney

Many people begin the story on August 27, 2007. But to better understand Western School of Law 3LAgustin Peña, a more accurate starting point is with the high school student who skipped classes almost to the point of not graduating.
“Long story short, I went to night school, made up some credits that I had missed out on during my high school education, eventually graduated, got into college and during undergrad,” Peña says, “was when I kind of started opening my eyes and realizing that not too many people from my community, my background are here—are in college.”

Peña says that realization sparked his interest to go back to his community to talk to kids and show them that there are a wide variety of options out there.

“The world that we live in is beyond the corner where we hang out at during the weekends or the block that we live on and travel,” Peña says.

That philosophy is the basis for PowerMentor, the nonprofit organization Peña cofounded. Through PowerMentor, Peña and others speak at local schools about their life experiences.

“We pretty much dedicate ourselves to helping inner-city youth see a different reality other than what they’re exposed to everyday in the community.”

But that revelation of a broader perspective is not solely what drives Peña. There is also August 27, 2007.

It’s the day his 14-year-old brother was murdered.

Javier Quiroz was not in a gang, but a group of gang members mistook him for a rival and challenged him. Quiroz ran, but the gang members chased and shot him three times, fatally.

In the aftermath, Peña says he realized that violence touches everyone.

“That, just combined with what I had been experiencing before, drove me even further,” he says. “Obviously, it still has lingering effects on me and my family, but I try to spin that into a positive as much as possible.”

That positive spin leads Peña to deliver a message of self-improvement to his community.

“I’m all about continuing to learn—maybe not in the formal, education context—but even, as corny as it sounds, becoming a student of life and just learning from your experiences, evolving, and doing that as an individual,” he says. “I strive to mirror that in my community, to try to send that message out that there’s always room for improvement.”

While violence will continue to exist, Peña says that shouldn’t be a discouragement.

“It should be a motivating factor,” he said. “It can get to you and it gets depressing after a while, but that’s when you have to be at a certain point in your life where you’re done becoming a victim.”

And it is Peña’s legal education that is preparing him to continue to help others.

“I’m a problem solver by nature, so what would be better than to become a professional problem solver?” he says. “As an attorney, you’re equipped with critical thinking skills that are fundamental.”

As always with Peña, it’s about what he can do for his community.

“I’m just so well equipped to the point where I am almost like a little hub for that people can tap into for different things,” he says. “I’m sure I’m not going to have all the answers or all the solutions, but I would know how to get the answers or the solutions that the community would need.”

—Matthew Gorney


Put in the work.
Have fun.
Get involved in something you’re passionate about. “That’s your personal contribution. If you get involved in something you’re passionate about, that’s pretty much you as an individual pursuing what you’ve always wanted to do, especially when it relates to the law,” Peña says.
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Things You Can’t Live Without: My sister, computer, pen, and paper
Favorite Fictional Lawyer: Nick Rice
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Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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