While children returned home from school and two young men played basketball in the nearby Watson Gleason playground, U.S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was at a reception just up the block for the renaming of the Bronxdale Houses to the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center in her honor.
The residents of the Soundview Bronx housing project on Rosedale Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard, elected officials and housing advocates petitioned to have Bronxdale renamed after the first Hispanic justice and third woman on the highest bench in the nation, who lived in the houses from 1957-1969.
With her mother, Celina, and brother, Juan, sitting in the front row, the first Hispanic American Supreme Court justice said, “I’m deeply humbled and touched that these houses will now bear my name. I won’t be able to drive by them without my heart stopping a little bit. I’m so grateful for all that you have given me today, but I’m so grateful for who I became because I lived here.”
Sotomayor continued to say, “It was the people who lived here who transformed these buildings into a community. The members of that community sustained each other and helped the next generation to grow. It is important for the broader community to remain committed to assisting the residents of this place so that other little Sonias will reach their dreams.”
The ceremony, held on June 4, was attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., City Council Member Annabelle Lalma, New York City Housing Authority Chairman John B. Rhea, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez, residents, school children and many others.
Rhea said the day was a “perfect testament to Justice Sotomayor’s character” and the capacity that her position had to be a “beacon for those who would follow in her footsteps and later blaze bright new trails of their own…and hopefully rekindle a fire in a young girl or boy who will work a little harder, study a little longer and be building a little higher…that no future is too far, no path to narrow and no destination is beyond your reach.”
In her speech, Sotomayor echoed that sentiment. She also recalled looking out the window of her apartment at empty lots with her father, who died when she was 9. She said he would talk to her about the development that would one day arrive. She spoke of her career in public service being sparked by Robert F. Kennedy, who visited the project when she was living there. She also highlighted the different families she encountered and learned from, and the good ol’ times her and her cousins, who also lived in the projects, had.
“I do remember each time I drive by that White Castle, the hours and hours of laughter that my cousins and I had as we roamed the grounds of this housing project, [where we] played in the playgrounds and screamed and fought and laughed and lived,” she said.
After the ceremony, Sotomayor danced with the choir singers of her alma mater, Cardinal Spellman High School, and took pictures.
The justice also visited her elementary school during the day and gave the commencement address at Hostos Community College, where her mother attended nursing school.
Sotomayor was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, a U.S District Court judge and a U.S Appellate Court judge. She attended Princeton University for her bachelor degree, where she reportedly needed to catch up on grammar by locking herself up and reading basic grammar books. She graduated summa cum laude. She also attended Yale Law School.
The Bronx borough president said in a statement that the renaming would “remind our youth that the American dream is alive–that one can rise from humble beginnings to the highest halls of power.”