{3:45 minutes to read} When I was 11-years-old and in 6th grade, I was going to school in Spanish Harlem. That year, I read the slave narrative of Frederick Douglass. My class went to Douglass’ former residence in Anacostia, Washington, D.C., where he had lived (close to where I lived when I went to law school). His book and his legacy changed everything for me.

Having originally come from Argentina to the streets of New York, I could never have conceived or understood the horrors of slavery in the South. His autobiography opened my eyes. Born into slavery, Douglass not only managed to escape to the North, but taught himself to read, and resolved to be an example to all of the sheer folly and ignorance of racism, and the utter inhumanity of the institution of slavery.

All those whom he met, and those who read his powerful words or heard his eloquent oratory, could not ever think that the races were unequal again. They were forced to look beyond someone’s skin color or ethnicity and judge them as a human being, equal and deserving of respect and acceptance. Frederick Douglass became living, breathing proof of the fallacies upon which the institution of slavery was erected. His brilliance, eloquence, intelligence and strength became an unstoppable force in the abolitionist movement, which helped this country come out of the darkest era in its history.

Frederick Douglass has been my hero for over 30 years now. I think of him, and I think that in life there are no excuses to be made. It is our obligation to ourselves, and to others to make the most of our lives and to try to set a good example for others. In my daily practice, I try to help like-minded individuals to overcome obstacles and reach for their dreams. If it were not for Frederick Douglass and his shining example, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.

When you are talking about values and what the American dream embodies, it is not about race or color or creed, or even national origin. The great Americans are those who have made the most of their lives and who have served as role models for each one of us. And to me, the people who have persevered on an even greater scale than immigrants who have come here from other countries are the people who endured and eventually came out of slavery. Nobody epitomizes the incredible human capacity to persevere, to succeed, to be a great leader, an exemplary human being, and a role model for America and humanity in general, than Frederick Douglass.