What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this area?
I am a litigation associate at Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, a law firm that represents many industry leaders in areas such as financial services, telecommunications and media. I initially pursued a legal education and career in order to understand how the interpretation and application of the law shapes our public institutions and the private corporations that govern our economy and affect our daily lives. Along the way, I've also found that I derive tremendous satisfaction from working with intelligent and hard-working people to find creative solutions to our clients' legal problems.
What is your strongest characteristic and how has it assisted you in your career?
By nature, I am an optimist. I always tend to look for the positive slant on situations that may be viewed as challenges or setbacks. This has been a tremendous asset for me both personally and in my professional career. As my father has always told me, everything happens for good - sometimes the "good" is hard to find, but it is definitely there! Though a lawyer's role is often to evaluate the structure of a business deal, implications of specific agreements, and the strength legal arguments in order to root out potential problems and/or weaknesses, I have found that a stubborn optimism is essential for helping to make things right.
Describe three lessons you have learned during your career?
1) Never underestimate the importance of maintaining good relationships;
2) The most fulfilling mentoring relationships consist of good mentors and good mentees; and
3) There is no substitute for hard work.
What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
Several years ago, I founded FECH (www.fech.org), a non-profit family foundation to raise support for health and education initatives in developing communities, including my parents' native Cameroon. In 2008, after learning that one of the largest healthcare providers in Cameroon did not have a single ambulance, we generated financial and material support to provide this institution with two ambulances and medical supplies. I'm tremendously proud of what the organization achieved - my family, friends and numerous colleagues all chipped in to help improve the lives of others in a tangible way.
What have you learned about politics and civic life through the fellows program?
The CUP Fellows program has lent tremendous perspective to my understanding of public service. On a micro level, the Program has introduced me to the various essential skills that anyone aspiring to be an agent for positive social change should possess. We have been introduced to the nuts and bolts of fundraising, crafting a message, and community organizing from some of the most knowledgeable political operatives in the country.
On a macro level, however, the Program has emphasized that engaging in politics and civic service is more than developing a set of skills. It's more than being able to give a good speech or raise money. First and foremost, engagement in politics and civic life requires a mindset of service. To paraphrase a famous New York politician, campaigning is poetry, but the real work of serving others is done in prose.
What advice would you give someone running for office for the first time?
Know yourself, know your constituents and their concerns, and take each day as an opportunity to learn from them.
What do you do in your free time?
I spend most of my free time hanging out with my wife in our neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. And I'm always looking for a good pickup basketball game!