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Chief Judge Irizarry is keynote speaker at Kings County Family Court Hispanic Heritage event

September 30, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Kings County Family Court held its fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Month event, where Hon. Dora Irizarry was the keynote speaker. Pictured from left: Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, administrative judge of the New York City Family Court; Hon. Dora L. Irizarry, chief judge of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York; and Hon. Amanda White, supervising judge of Brooklyn’s Family Court. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Kings County Family Court got a little help from the Federal Court as Chief Judge Dora Irizarry was the keynote speaker for its fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Month event that was held in the Downtown Brooklyn courthouse on Wednesday.

“Hispanic Heritage Month gives us an opportunity to come together one time at one place to reflect on all the wonderful accomplishments of Hispanic-Americans and to celebrate them and our future,” said Hon. Amanda White, supervising judge of the Kings County Family Court.

The event, called “Honoring Our Heritage and Building Our Future,” featured art displays by various Hispanic artists and an artifacts display. Giselle Lalla sang the national anthem, and there was a dance performance by Marisol Ramirez and Adriel Flete, a mother-and-son team.

John Coakley, deputy clerk of court, and Dionne Lowery, clerk of court, both gave brief remarks along with Supervising Judge Amanda White. Hon. Alicea Elloras and Hon. Javier E. Vargas, the co-chairs who organized the event, introduced speakers Hon. Jeanette Ruiz and Hon. Irizarry, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District.

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“I always heard about these epic events, so now I’m very happy to be a part of this so I can report back how truly epic these events are,” said Lowery, who came to Brooklyn after serving in Queens for 26 years.

Irizarry, who was clearly moved to be the keynote speaker, recalled coming to the U.S. with her family in the 1950s.

“When I came here, I was a baby, but I first went to Banana Kelly, and they called it that because that’s where all the Puerto Ricans went,” Irizarry recalled, “we spoke a different language, we ate different food and we had a different culture and music. This was in the ’50s, and some people didn’t even know what a Puerto Rican was, and we had this language barrier. On top of that, being a female meant that I had other barriers.”

Irizarry said that it was never easy for her growing up, even as she started her career, and recalled an instance where her counselor at Yale University discouraged her from going to law school. But she said her parents and her education ultimately helped her to overcome her disadvantages. She then challenged everyone in the room to reach back and help those who face similar issues today.

“My challenge to everyone here — we are tremendous successes in whatever role we play, whether we are court officers, a secretary, you are a role model and a success in your own right — you can reach somebody,” she said. “My challenge is for you to go out there and reach somebody every day. Five minutes — that’s all it takes.”

Everyone also had fond words for Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, who, as the former supervising judge of Brooklyn’s family court, was instrumental in starting the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations at the court four years ago.

“It’s so important for all of us and everyone who works in our court to really understand each other’s culture and history better,” Ruiz said when she explained why it was important for her to set up such an event. “A lot of us, the court family and the families that come into our court, are from different communities of color. So I thought that it was important for those of us who provide due process of law and justice to the community at large that we get together to appreciate each other’s cultures, differences and similarities.” 

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