As he concludes his second year of law school, Rbrey “R.D.” Singleton already possesses a world of experience—both personal and professional—that is preparing him for a career advocating for others.
As the son and grandson of immigrants who volunteers in UMass Law’s Immigration Law Clinic, Singleton understands the hardships and dreams of those seeking a new life and opportunities in the United States. An internship at the Bergen County (New Jersey) Superior Court’s family division and clerkship at the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office have enabled Singleton to advocate for children. His involvement in college and law school demonstrate his leadership in providing a student voice to the institutions he attends.
For his commitment to leadership and juvenile advocacy, Singleton was named the recipient of the Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland Leadership and Juvenile Advocacy Award from the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association (MBLA). The award was presented at the MBLA Annual Gala.
According to a statement released by the organization, “The MBLA is honored to recognize Rbrey D. Singleton as the recipient of the 2021 Honorable Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland Leadership and Juvenile Advocacy Award (Ireland Award). The Ireland Award was established to support the development of students who, like Chief Justice Ireland, have exhibited a commitment to outstanding leadership and a passion for juvenile advocacy.
“We were struck by Rbrey's dedication to the welfare of children during his judicial internship at the Bergen County Superior Court, Family Part, and we are impressed by his commitment to marginalized and disenfranchised populations evidenced by his pledge to serve in PILF. We are excited to have Rbrey as part of our MBLA student community and look forward to supporting and celebrating him as he continues to advance in his legal career.”
Chief Justice Ireland served in the MA judiciary for more than 30 years, including the Boston Juvenile Court and the MA Court of Appeals. In 1997, he was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court and was the first African-American justice and chief justice to serve on the court until his retirement in 2014. He has expanded opportunities for attorneys of color and is dedicated to issues impacting youth.
“I am so thrilled and thankful to be this year’s recipient of the Ireland Award,” Singleton said. “Seeing so many wonderful and accomplished Black attorneys at the gala inspires me and I hope to pay it forward when I get on the other side of the law. I am very appreciative of the MBLA for recognizing me.”
Advocate for immigrants
Singleton was inspired to attend law school by his mother and grandmother who fled to the U.S in 1982 following the revolution in Nicaragua. “I always listened to their stories about their government and how bad things were," he said. "I want to change things for the better in my community.”
He was an intern for Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), where he worked on immigration issues. A Public Interest Law Fellow (PILF), Singleton is working with the Immigration Law Clinic at UMass Law, providing pro bono legal representation to migrant clients in the community, performing legal research, drafting memoranda, and working with Spanish-speaking clients.
“This work is especially important to me, as I am a first-generation American and come from a family of migrants,” Singleton wrote in his award application essay.
For his first client, Singleton successfully filed an Adjustment of Status Petition. “The experience of engaging with my young client and listening to her riveting story of traveling to this country alone from Central America was humbling," he said. "It made me think of my mother and grandmother taking the same journey from Nicaragua 35 years ago, affording me the opportunities I have today.”
As a result of this work, Singleton’s client is on her way to long-term permanent residence and citizenship. “I will be forever grateful for this experience as it brought the human element of lawyering home and reminded me of why I started this journey in the first place: to use my degree, and the privilege I have been afforded, to empower and work alongside people to use the law for good," said Singleton. "Thanks to my client for giving me the opportunity to pursue justice alongside her."
Singleton feels a strong connection to his family’s roots in Nicaragua. When Hurricanes Eta and Iota ravaged the island’s impoverished Atlantic Coast last fall, Singleton and his mother created a GoFund me page that raised $5,000 for displaced families in Puerto Caezas, just 40 miles north of his grandmother’s home.
“Seeing the smiles on the faces of the children at Christmas as they received their toys purchased with the donated funds gave me a sense of fulfillment that I will never forget,” he said.
Advocate for youth and children
Singleton, a native of Paterson, NJ, was a judicial intern with the family division of Bergen County Superior Court last fall.
“I have always had an interest in the welfare of children especially those who are under the guardianship of the state,” said Singleton. “Kids need protection. They need an opportunity to grow up, to be nurtured, and cared for. The internship opened my mind to the day-to-day operation of judicial chambers, and I conducted legal research, memorandum drafting, and order drafting for custody, divorce, and adoption matters.”
Advocate for justice
When Singleton was just 12 years old, his 27-year-old uncle was murdered. “We never found justice for him,” Singleton said. “I think about him all the time as I interact with families who lost a loved one. I know their pain and I want to help them.”
Singleton currently serves in the William C. Clifton, Sr. Clerkship Program in the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, where he hopes to learn more about how witnesses, specifically women and children, are supported in the wake of crimes. The 10-week clerkship program is named for William Clifton, Sr., the first African American Special Assistant Attorney General for Rhode Island who was later appointed to the Rhode Island District Court. Singleton is currently working in the criminal division’s child abuse unit and will work with the civil rights advocate doing research, writing memos and briefs, and going to court.
Advocate for students
A 2019 summa cum laude graduate of Rowan University in New Jersey, Singleton majored in political science with a concentration in race, class, & gender studies and public policy. He was an Achieving the Dream Scholar and received the Dr. Thomas E. Robinson University Leadership Medallion, the University Senate Diversity Award, and the Political Science & Economics Department Senior of Distinction Award.
Singleton served on the university’s Foundation Board, as president of the Student Government Association, and as a student trustee on the university’s board of trustees. He was state vice chairman of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority as a voting member of the board, representing New Jersey’s college population who received financial aid. He also co-founded the S.H.O.P. Food Pantry.
UMass Law experience
While Singleton has found law school challenging, he said this award makes him grateful for his hard work. He appreciates the support of Assistant Deans Daniel Fitzpatrick and John Quinn “who welcomed me and my family to UMass Law with open arms and showed me what it means to be a lawyer.” He also credits Professor Gina DeRossi for her support and for sparking his interest in family law.
At UMass Law, he was the 1L Student Bar Association representative, and is treasurer of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and IF/WHEN/HOW Law Students for Reproductive Justice.
BLSA has provided mentors and friendships that have enhanced Singleton’s UMass Law experience. Members offer advice, tips, and support along with his family. “I’m so glad to have them in my corner,” Singleton said.
“If you want to pursue public interest law and make a difference, UMass Law is the place to be,” Singleton said. “PILF is unique, and I would not be able to attend law school without it.”
As an attorney, Singleton plans to work in the public sector. “I want to use my education to seek justice for all underrepresented communities—women, children, people of color, and victims of crime."