"Because of my Darrow, I was able to pursue my dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer right after law school—as I didn't have to worry about paying off debt," said Marisa Bono, '05. Bono began her legal career as a staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)—a public interest nonprofit and the nation's premier Latino civilrights firm.
As MALDEF's southwest regional counsel, Bono led statewide cases such as challenging inadequate school funding for low-income and English language learning (ELL) students. She was one of the only attorneys in the county to try school funding cases in multiple states and the first Latina to argue a school funding case in the Texas Supreme Court. As MALDEF's lead attorney in the landmark school funding case, Martinez v. New Mexico, she helped represent more than 50 low-income and ELL students across the state during the nine-week trial. The MALDEF team prevailed, securing a court ruling that said education is a fundamental right in the state. "I went to law school because I wanted to be a voice for others, and the Darrow enabled me achieve that," Bono said.
Today, Bono is chief strategic officer for VIA Metropolitan Transit—the mass transit agency for the city of San Antonio and its surrounding areas. In her new role as part of the agency's public engagement group, she will strengthen relationships between the agency and VIA's stakeholders. Bono joined VIA after serving as chief of policy for San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg. As his adviser, she helped implement policies affecting housing, public safety, education, workforce development, and transportation—such as his ConnectSA initiative. Much of her work involved helping San Antonio residents prepare for the anticipated growth of the city by more than 1 million new inhabitants by 2040.
"My first year of law school was the same year that the Grutter and Gratz affirmative action cases were argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. Racial tension on campus was high, with many questioning whether students of color ‘deserved’ to be at the Law School. I received questions and comments like that personally. To me, the Darrow meant I did belong at Michigan—that I did deserve a place here, that I had a purpose, and couldn't give up on myself."
Bono believes she likely would not have attended a top-10 law school like Michigan Law without the Darrow. She also is grateful to her Darrow for allowing her to undertake her post-graduation clerkship and subsequent public interest fellowship, believing both helped her set up her career trajectory. "Michigan Law opened doors for me and continues to do so to this day."
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