Attorney Starr Brookins is a prominent figure in her community, helping mentor many at-risk children and guiding them towards a better future. Andrea Romero-Fisher sat down with Starr and asked her to share some of her experiences with helping others in the community.
Q: YOU’VE DONE SO MUCH IN THE COMMUNITY. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO BE ACTIVE AND GET INVOLVED?
At the heart of it all, my desire to help others is what drives me. I also strive to ensure that everyone feels heard, listened to, valued, and respected. I come from a family of public servants, and improving our community has been a huge part of my life, ever since I was a child.
I wholeheartedly believe that with “Greater Service” comes “Greater Progress.”
Q: YOU’VE BEEN A MENTOR TO AT-RISK CHILDREN. HOW ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY AS A MENTOR TO THOSE CHILDREN?
I have been a mentor in every facet of my life, and I believe that my passion for mentorship is rooted in my life experiences. The word passion comes from the Latin root “pati,” which means to suffer. My passion is to share my story with others, in order to encourage and inspire others to reach higher than I ever thought that I could, through introspection, improvement, and self-advocacy.
As a first-generation lawyer, I have had to navigate a system that was foreign to me. I failed, a lot, simply because I didn’t know. But, there’s nothing wrong with failure – it’s how you learn, it’s how you grow, and it’s how you thrive. It required a lot of work ethic and a lot more sacrifice. If I can help someone else, or make someone else’s life a little easier than mine has been, then that’s sufficient.
I’m a huge Beyoncé fan, and Momma Knowles routinely says that “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Growing up, I didn’t personally know any lawyers or judges. I fell in love with the law through watching shows like Matlock and reading a lot of law-related literature, where I could envision the characters however I wanted. The only lawyer I knew of was a lawyer whose home my great grandmother would clean.
We are constantly told what we can’t do, and who we can’t be. Even as a persistent overachiever, I have succumbed to this. Towards the end of my junior year of high school, my guidance counselor laughed in my face when I told her that I wanted to apply to schools like Duke, and Harvard. She told me not to waste my time. I was in the top 1% of my class, a recipient of the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award, I had attained one of the highest PSAT scores at my school, was selected to attend Girls State, was an AP Scholar, was enrolled in dual enrollment, and I was a leader – serving as President of multiple organizations at school, as well as serving as President of a state-wide organization at the local, regional, and state level. If they were discouraging me from applying to top colleges, I couldn’t even imagine what they were saying to my colleagues. Her discouragement propelled me into serving as a mentor and cheerleader to other individuals.
I mentor children in a variety of ways – through Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. where we host an annual Youth Symposium; children in the dependency system; children in the foster care system; children at local schools; and children involved with Teen Court. I also mentor young lawyers, and young adults, to assist them in achieving their goals.
Q: YOU RECENTLY RECEIVED THE 2019 CIVIC AWARD AT THE TAMPA BAY G.I.R.L.S. ROCK AWARDS SHOW. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?
Receiving this award was extremely humbling. I have been dedicated to civic engagement and involvement since the age of 13, and for that to be acknowledged by the community that I was raised in means everything.
Q: YOU’VE SERVED AS A VOLUNTEER TEEN COURT JUDGE FOR SEVERAL YEARS AND RAN FOR JUDGE LAST YEAR! WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO RUN FOR JUDGE?
So many people live their lives without zealously pursuing their passions. In the past few years, I have lost several close friends – Drew Leinonen who was gunned down in the Pulse shooting, in June of 2016; my friend from elementary school, Hayley McDonald, who died from cancer after fighting for her life (I learned that she passed away the morning before I had an interview with a law firm); and my friend from law school who was my prayer partner, Erika Glenn – she passed away after battling stage 4 metastatic cancer. I also lost my grandmother, after having found her in her home seizing and serving as her caregiver, with my mother, until she passed away.
Erika went by Erika the Encourager, and even through her battle with cancer, she always had something positive to say. She would always say “everything on the other side of fear is worth it.” She never gave up, even when faced with the bleakest of statistics. Before deciding to run for Judge, I spoke with Erika and her reaction was the same one that I had received from individuals who have known me since middle school – “It’s about time!!” And, then we prayed about it, and both heard God telling me that it was the time to go for it. I had been practicing law for 6 years at the time that I announced my candidacy for Judge, but I was, and still am, ready to serve in that position and to continue my commitment to serving the public, which has spanned for over 2 decades.
I fell in love with the law as a child, and my ability to connect with others and listen has always resulted in me serving in quasi-judicial positions. In elementary school, my peers voted for me to serve as a Mediator because they trusted me and I was honest. From there, I have served on the Judicial Board in college, served as the Gavel Director and a Consumer Mediator in law school, and I currently serve as a volunteer Teen Court Judge, as well as a Hearing Officer with Hillsborough County.
Aside from having the academic pedigree, qualifications, and desire to serve as a Judge, I also possess the requisite humility, fidelity to upholding the rule of law as promulgated, analytical preciseness, temperament, and discipline to exercise judicial restraint while actively listening, showing compassion, and remaining prodigiously prepared for every litigant that would appear before me. I ran for Judge because I was, and I remain, able to contribute meaningfully to the bench while ensuring that everyone feels respected, and heard.
Q: WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS A HOT TOPIC IN THE LEGAL FIELD. WITH ALL THAT YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED, HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIME AND FIND BALANCE?
The biggest thing for me is realizing that while I may be able to have everything – I can’t have everything all at once. (If someone out there has the secret to having it all, at all times, please reach out to me lol). Some days are heavily driven by the organizations that I’m involved with, like The Athena Society. Some days are heavily driven by billing hours. Some days are heavily driven by helping my mentees through an issue that they’re experiencing. Some days are heavily driven by engaging in introspection and figuring out ways in which I can grow into a better person – a better lawyer, leader, mother, auntie, etc.
I manage my time and find that I am able to work through the chaos, because of my work ethic and sacrifice. I’m absolutely frightened of mediocrity and complacency, so I think that this fear is what drives what has been described by some as my intense work ethic.
I listen to my body. I have learned that “no” is a complete sentence, and that I must utilize it from time to time – even with regard to things about which I am passionate. I give myself space to fail or fall short, without being too incredibly difficult on myself. I give myself space to spend quality time with my family, and those important to me (without a laptop being in front of me, or without constantly responding to emails on my phone). I give myself space to relax and do absolutely nothing. I give myself space to work on my relationship with God and to mediate on His word and where He wants me to be, which is where a lot of my strength comes from.