The Heights

Updated: May 23, 2016

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Foothill alum receives bar association award

Foothill College alumnus Andrew W. Houston, J.D., was recently named the recipient of the National Bar Association’s 40 Under 40 Award. The award recognizes the nation’s top lawyers under age 40 who also exemplify a broad range of high achievement, including innovation, vision, leadership, and legal and community involvement.

“It’s very satisfying and humbling to have been selected for this prestigious award, especially because it recognizes the good things that my fellow awardees and I are doing in our communities and in our profession. I count myself fortunate to stand with strong professionals who are committed to uplifting the community,” he says.

Houston is currently a staff attorney at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Office of the General Counsel where he handles a variety of matters, with particular emphasis on public contracts involving construction, procurement and services. Prior to working at BART, he served at the City and County of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. He began his career at Legal Services of Northern California where he provided low-income clients with free legal services.

A 1998 graduate of Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Houston attended Foothill College and earned his Associate in Arts Degree in Individual Studies in 2001. While at Foothill, he was active in the Pass the Torch peer-mentoring program. He credits his Foothill success to the late Pass the Torch founder and Foothill Counselor Jean Thomas, Ph.D., who counseled and mentored him, and openly wept when Houston was accepted into the University of California, Berkeley.

“Foothill gave me an environment to grown up in, to mature,” he says. “I happily tell family, friends and colleagues that community colleges like Foothill are an awesome way to enter higher education. Complete your general ed requirements at a community college. Save money at a community college. Sample different disciplines at a community college. Develop your college and career plan of action at a community college. Grow at a community college.”

Houston, who describes himself as an average high school student, says his Foothill experience was truly transformative. “I started to succeed at Foothill. Counselors and faculty took an interest in me. I used the support services, like tutoring and counseling, and I started to see results and improved grades. I was profoundly touched by the faculty and staff who gave so much of themselves in order to see kids like me succeed. That desire to give back was contagious. It’s why I give back. It’s one reason that I served as a Pass the Torch mentor at Foothill, and why I continue to volunteer in my community and professional associations.”

Before the Bar, before the awards, before Cal, there was just Jean. “The minute that I met Jean Thomas, the entire trajectory of my life changed,” he says. “Jean saw my potential and guided me. I started to take school seriously. I thought about my future. I began to consider my options. Today, I’m the first in my family to have graduated from college. I’m forever grateful to Foothill for providing me with excellent academics, preparation, faculty, support staff and resources, all in an environment of genuine caring about my success.”

Houston went on to graduate from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2003. While at Cal, he was an active mentor in the Berkeley Scholars to Cal Program, which provides African-American and Chicano/Latino eighth and eleventh grade students with academic and social support. In 2007, he was awarded a juris doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and is a member of the State Bar of California.

Whether in the classroom or the courtroom, Houston says it’s critical to share the power of education and student success with all students, especially students of color. “I put a lot of hard work into my education, and I’m fortunate to have an education that I can use to help my family and my community. I’m humbled that I’m financially stable, something I never thought would happen for me. I’ve experienced personal and professional success. I’ve succeed because long ago, other people, like Jean Thomas, saw potential in me that I didn’t see myself. I enjoy mentoring students for the same reason—I see their potential and the good they can bring to our community.”

In addition to serving on his church’s board of directors, Houston continues to mentor students, participate in community law clinics, and fundraise to support mentoring and continuing legal education programs offered by the Charles Houston Bar Association, an NBA affiliate chapter.

“Our numbers are low in higher education and numerous industries,” he says. “So it’s important to me that high school and college students have advocates, like a Jean Thomas, who will guide them, nature their interests, and encourage them to consider a multitude of university-transfer and career options. After all, we don’t necessarily need more lawyers. We need more educated, committed people of color in law, politics, health care, technology and so many other professions. We need diversity at that decision-making table to formulate the smart decisions that will improve the lives of everyone in our communities.”

Houston is the president of the Charles Houston Bar Association (CHBA) and serves on the board of directors of the East Oakland Church of Christ. He is a past recipient of the Justice Allen W. Broussard, Justice Wiley W. Manuel, John M. Langston Bar Association and CHBA scholarships, and the Justice Robert M. Takatsuki fellowship. He is also a past recipient of the CHBA President’s Award.

Founded in 1925, the National Bar Association (NBA) is the nation’s oldest and largest national network of predominantly African-American and Black attorneys and judges. The NBA represents the interests of approximately 60,000 lawyers, judges, law professors and law students.

Learn more about Pass the Torch, including how to make donations to the program.

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