Anabel Rosa Champions Latinx Causes Through Activism and Law

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Anabel Rosa, a shareholder/partner at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, dedicates her life to a long list of volunteer activities

Anabel Rosa
Photo by John Michael Simpson

By Hannah Lee

The plane was petite, Anabel Rosa remembers, a blue puddle-jumper. As she and New York City mayor David Dinkins flew over Boston, he pointed down at the clear blue channel beneath them. “That’s where the Boston Tea Party happened,” he shouted over the noise. Anabel, an assistant press secretary at the time, drew a blank face. “I know that’s American history,” she said, “but I have to admit, I don’t know the full story.” Mayor Dinkins looked at her kindly, knowing what she meant. “I’ve been thinking about law school,” she continued. “And I want to study the Constitution. I’m excited about it every time I read it.”

Anabel Rosa

When they landed, Dinkins pointed that same finger, but this time at her. “You’re going to law school,” he said. At this point, Anabel had worked for him for four years, a whirlwind experience that included meeting her idol, Nelson Mandela, who dedicated his life to equality. A year after that plane ride, Anabel was on her way to doing the same, starting with her acceptance to Brooklyn Law School.

It’s hard to believe how far Anabel has come in the three decades since. She left New York the year after 9/11 and moved to Puerto Rico to work as an attorney, notary and real estate agent for a few years before officially planting roots in Durham. Now she is one of the city’s up-and-coming civil rights attorneys. 

Her initial hesitations about North Carolina were alleviated after an interview with the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. They shared the same enthusiasm about working with clients who speak English as a second language – a topic that’s always hit home for her.

Anabel could barely speak English when she moved to the States from Puerto Rico in 1981 to start her undergraduate studies at Syracuse University. A college friend would walk her through simple phrases like, “How are you doing?” and, “Where are we going for lunch?” When Anabel moved to Durham in 2010, she spent every Saturday morning for five years teaching ESL students at The Church of The Good Shepherd. Anabel likes to think that’s where her son, Andres, found his motivation to join the Peace Corps in 2019.

The pandemic cut Andres’ experience short, and necessitated that Anabel watch her daughter Gisela’s Durham Academy graduation on TV. Still, over the past year she’s sometimes worked 55-plus-hour weeks, at times overseeing some 300 cases.

And that doesn’t include her pro bono work. Her client demographic often includes ethnic or racial minorities who are not being treated justly. “It’s what makes me feel so good about what I do,” she says, “because that’s not going to get past me.” That drive earned her induction into the North Carolina Pro Honor Society in 2019 and the Citizen Lawyer Award from the North Carolina Bar Association the following year.

Anabel finds ways to advocate for people beyond her role as an attorney. She’s a member of North Carolina Advocates for Justice, coordinating U.S. citizenship clinics. The energetic lawyer has a charismatic way of finding volunteers; she recruited 21 attorneys from her office during the last clinic three years ago. They processed nearly 50 applications that day.

You’ll find her at an occasional Durham City Council meeting, gauging how certain plans affect heavily populated Latino neighborhoods. When Bill Bell was mayor, she’d walk up to him and relay her complaints without hesitation. Now she’s in Raleigh doing the same thing at a state level, often sitting in on four-hour meetings for the Governor’s Hispanic Advisory Council.

For all the awards and accolades she’s received for her work, her one hope is that it makes an impact for generations to come. 

“I’m really proud and honored to be a member of all these committees, but I feel for my children and their children,” she says. “Knowing that we [as a country] move so slowly sometimes. When my son first came to Durham, when he was in Brogden Middle School, he was followed around by a group of kids who called themselves the Border Patrol.

“I hope that with all this effort and all this work and all these committees, we will see improvement, see change.”

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Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee is the assistant editor at Durham Magazine. Born and raised in Winston-Salem, she attended UNC-Chapel Hill and double majored in broadcast journalism and German.

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