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Meet Brandon S. Bruce

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brandon S. Bruce, Esq., LL.M.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Brandon. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I moved to San Diego from Washington, D.C. in September 2017, seeking a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of East Coast living. I grew up in Philadelphia where I also received my Bachelor of Arts (La Salle University) in 2005, Juris Doctorate (Villanova University School of Law) in 2008, and Master of Laws (Temple University School of Law) in 2012, but my upbringing wasn’t as cookie-cutter as my resume might suggest. I was raised by a single mother with six (6) other siblings, including a fraternal twin brother, in one home in a quiet part of the Northwest section of Philadelphia called Mount Airy, but, thankfully, I lived a mostly normal life until I was 13.

I received new school clothes every August, we went on holiday vacations for Labor Day and the 4th of July, Christmas’ consisted of gifts and a big family dinner, and my home was filled with belly laughs and smiles. That all came to a tragic end two (2) months after my 13th birthday when my mother, who unbeknownst to me, had lived with leukemia for five (5) years, passed away in January 1997 after her cancer had come back more advanced after she went into remission and ultimately proved to be terminal. With my mother’s passing, my life had reached a proverbial fork in the road: my life at that point would either result in me 1) using my mother’s death as an excuse for my future failures or 2) serve as the catalyst to unlock my potential and honor my mother’s memory through my accomplishments. As there was no savior coming through my front door, I chose the latter as my only means to move forward.

The loss of my mother wasn’t just impactful in terms of losing my only parent; she was also my confidant, nurturer, and biggest supporter. So her passing in January 1997 also meant the loss of my childhood as I had known it. From that day on I had to play the dual role of student and parent because I was forced to advocate for myself in all situations concerning my future. There were no more parent-teacher conferences to be held or interested family member to keep me on the straight and narrow; in my mind, I was the only person who I had to answer to if I didn’t turn in an assignment on time or needed help with my homework. I knew that I was literally on my own, but that knowledge pushed me to do more and as I began to raise my own expectations for myself.

In short, the hard truth was that as an African-American man in America, I was walking on a theoretical tightrope through life with no safety net underneath me to catch me if I fell, so I had to make the most out of every opportunity that I had because there almost assuredly wasn’t going to be a second chance for me if I failed. As a result, I worked tirelessly to be the best in every class; I literally willed myself to be great as a means to narrow the gaps between me and the more fortunate kids at my school who had more family resources to rely on than me. My thinking was that to be competitive on exams and projects, I had to be extraordinary to level the playing field with the other “ordinary students,” i.e., who lived in two or single parent homes, by outworking them every day. The result was a dogged mindset of persistence, dedication, and preparation that helped propel me through high school and my time as a ward of the Court after my mother passed. Being a dependent in the care of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) also played a key role in my juvenile years because it served as a daily reminder of how blessed I was in comparison to the more needy children in the youth dependency system.

I actually remained in the care of DHS as a freshman in college because I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen (17) and started my BA at La Salle University months before my eighteenth (18th) birthday. I also graduated from my high school ranked tenth (10th) in my class and received a full-tuition scholarship to La Salle University despite being moved to various placements in the DHS system, which included boys’ homes, foster care, and youth emergency shelters. But even then I knew that despite all the challenges that I faced at young age, my experiences were preparing me for greater obstacles that would require prior lessons in patience and loss for me to overcome.

For instance, after graduating from law school in May 2008, I spent the entire summer preparing for the Bar exam in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Even though sitting for a Bar exam is stressful and a scary prospect for most, I was well suited to be successful despite the demands of my intense Bar preparation schedule, which involved high-level multitasking and time management because I previously worked two (2) jobs while attending high school (I worked as a webmaster at Dechert LLP during the week and as a busser and host at Chili’s restaurant on the weekends), but was able to maintain an A average in all of my classes as a high school senior. As a result, I was able to handle the rigors of a fourteen (14) hour Bar study day, which is helped me pass the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Bar exams on my first attempt.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Although I lost my mother at the age of thirteen (13), her loss wasn’t the one that I most struggled with, in part, due to the fact that she was in pain and I had witnessed her battle with cancer over a five (5) year period, which sort of mentally prepared me for her passing. It wasn’t until January 10, 2009, that I had to endure the most difficult 24 hour period in my life. It was on that day in January of 2009 when I received a call from Dickinson College, where my younger brother, Nathaniel (Nate) attended college, and was informed coldly that Nate had passed while on a school trip in Guatemala just two (2) weeks after his twentieth (20th) birthday.

Nate was a sophomore at Dickson at the time and decided to spend his winter break in between the Fall and Spring semesters volunteering to help build homes in Guatemala as part of a service mission, i.e., “Serve the World” trip, sponsored by the United Methodist Church. While most college kids spend their time vacationing or partying over winter break, Nate wanted to give back, but his life was cut short while he was spending university-scheduled downtime at the beach. The tragedy occurred after Nate and his classmates were pulled out to sea by a riptide, which while the others had managed to make it back to land, Nate did not.

Although I was in a state of shock when I received the news of Nate’s passing (I was listed as his Emergency Contact on his next of kin paperwork with Dickinson College), I somehow managed to tell my family members in-person, as as a way to soften the blow, in stark contrast from how Dickson College informed me. I then got on the next red-eye flight to Guatemala to begin the process to repatriate my brother’s remains back to the U.S. despite the location of his body being unknown when I boarded the plane. Thankfully when I landed, my brother was found by a fishing crew, so I was able to have his remains prepared to be sent back to the U.S. with me onboard. It was during this time that my twin, Terrell, who was still processing his own grief, had the wonderful idea to start a foundation to honor our little brother, Nate.

As a result, in 2009 Terrell launched the Nathaniel M. Kirkland Foundation, which provided college scholarships in Nate’s name to memorialize him and raise awareness about Nate’s life and all the good that he stood for in this world. In Terrell’s mind, even though Nate’s light had tragically been extinguished in Guatemala, Nate’s message would continue on and endure through the Nathaniel M. Kirkland Foundation. Terrell continued his great work with the Nathaniel M. Kirkland Foundation until he was a tragic victim of gun violence on December 27, 2016, which would’ve been Nate’s twenty-eighth (28th) birthday. So, as you might imagine, the losses of my brothers had a profound impact on me, which caused me to engage in deep self-reflection.

For instance, after the passing of my younger brother Nate in 2009, I joined the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General in August 2009 as a way to follow his example and answer the call of service. Similarly, when my twin, Terrell, passed in December 2016, I followed his example by founding the Terrell L. Bruce Memorial Fund, which honors both Nate and Terrell, by supporting causes that were near and dear to their hearts like community service, financial literacy, animal welfare, and scholarship awards to students who demonstrate academic excellence.

We’d love to hear more about your organization.
The purpose of the Terrell L. Bruce Memorial Fund is to honor Nate and Terrell’s great legacy of community service and academic excellence by continuing their charitable efforts and raising awareness about their life while encouraging others to live life as they did; altruistically. The Terrell L. Bruce Memorial Fund is committed to serving the local community, not only by providing financial support and volunteer services to local high schools and animal shelters that rescue abused or neglected animals, and hosting free financial literacy workshops and various community outreach events.

Since its inception in January 2017, the Fund has provided twelve (18) total scholarships for a combined total of $12,616.98 in honor of Nathaniel and Terrell. In San Diego, the systemic problem of poor academic preparation and lack of aspiration play a major role in the low post-secondary participation rates. This was evidenced in the 2010 Census, where only 36.5% of the residents of San Diego age 25 or older have a Bachelors degree or higher compared to 38.4% of the residents of Orange County age 25 or older have a Bachelors degree or higher. This sobering statistic illustrates that less affluent segments of San Diego, while surrounded by wealthy neighboring suburbs such as Orange County, struggle to keep pace with its education goals.

These educational inequalities lead to economic consequences that impact residents’ quality of life for generations. Moreover, in terms of educational attainment, these areas of the county are lagging behind the rest of California. In the absence of non-profits such as the Terrell L. Bruce Memorial Fund, promising students from underrepresented racial and socioeconomic groups throughout San Diego will remain feeling desperate, isolated, and without support.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
The people that deserve credit for my success are my brothers, who I try to honor daily through my actions. I used to be amazed at all that my twin managed to juggle in addition to his full-time job. For instance, while working as a real estate agent, founder and president of the Nathaniel M. Kirkland Foundation, and property owner/manager of his own real estate investment properties, Terrell stressed the importance of financial literacy and personal development while serving as an inspiration for countless others. Terrell dedicated his time to helping others. Terrell also volunteered in his community by serving as a “Big Brother” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties.

In addition, Terrell coordinated annual community outreach events such as the Nathaniel M. Kirkland Foundation Basketball league and the Nathaniel M. Kirkland Bowling Party. Through self-funding and donations, Terrell provided over a dozen scholarships to worthy rising college freshmen attending various universities both near and far, such as Rosemont College, Hampton University, and North Carolina Central University, to name a few.

In regards to Nate, he was a proud graduate of the Two Hundred Sixty-Sixth Class of Central High School in June of 2007. At Central, Nate served as the producer of the school’s television station (“CBN”), was president of the audio/visual club, and was even named Prom King. Nate later attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he developed a passion to get involved in the community. Nate was also an active student on campus, founding Dickinson’s Multimedia Club, serving as a Resident Advisor, and participating as a Bonner Leader.

At Dickinson, Nate majored in English and was a pre-law student and completed a summer externship program with Reed Smith law firm, a National Top 100 firm. Nate was known as an inspiration to all. Nate’s enthusiasm for life was just like his smile: contagious. Nate was unselfish, caring, and passionate in all of his endeavors. Even in his young age, Nate was already an accomplished producer, director, and poet by anyone’s standards having completed many poems, screenplays, short films, and documentaries.

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