A Sit-Down with Gray Mateo Harris, IEJF’s Newest Board Member
Gray is a partner in Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office and a member of the Labor and Employment Law Department.
You’re a native Spanish speaker from the Dominican Republic. Why is providing Spanish legal representation a priority for you?
My parents left careers as a professor and an agricultural engineer to labor as a hotel housekeeper and a hospital cook given their lack of English fluency. Their sacrifices drove my commitment to achieving success. Having always been the advocate for my parents when they needed help because of limited English, I naturally gravitated towards the law. Perhaps because of this early understanding of what role language plays in conflict resolution and effective communication, I find it incredibly critical to help my clients leverage that opportunity to ensure nothing is “lost in translation” as it relates to their legal matters. Whether investigating sex harassment claims raised by a Spanish speaking employee or participating in a Spanish language mediation, providing Spanish language representation has been incredibly rewarding for me personally and is a niche part of my practice I continue to enjoy growing.
What do you feel is the most compelling message for increased civil legal aid funding?
Increased civil legal aid funding helps redress virtually every social injustice rampant in our society. It is a one-stop shop of sorts that allows us to maximize the impact of every dollar to ensure the most critical issues are being well-serviced in the most efficient and effective way by the true experts in the field. Such an investment pays dividends – quite literally – in providing better access to economic opportunity, wellness and healthcare, enrichment and education, safety and housing, etc. The possibilities are endless in what good we can do through increased legal aid funding.
In addition to the IEJF, you have been actively involved with organizations like Rape Victim Advocates, the IL Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Coalition, just to name a few. What do you feel makes an effective board member?
To me the key differentiator between an effective and ineffective board member is whether such person is genuinely passionate about the subject matter and business operations of the board on which s/he serves. Any other skill or requirement can be learned. Passion simply cannot be taught.
You and your family live in Chicago’s Old Irving Park community. What is your favorite thing about your neighborhood?
I very much love the diversity of my Old Irving Park neighborhood. From economic, racial and ethnic diversity to the various types of families that live here – e.g., professional, young and multi-generational – Old Irving has it all.