A Passion for Social Justice and for Mentoring Students to Join the Fight

After I learned that David Grossman had entered hospice care, I sat at my computer, trying to write a goodbye email, but the words were not coming. I did not know how to express how much Dave’s mentorship impacted my life and my career, and I still do not. Eventually, I gushed out how much Dave meant to me and hit “send.” Then I pictured him reading it, and smiled, realizing how much he would be teasing me for its sappiness. That was just his nature—he was simultaneously inspiring, kind, generous, and brilliant while also tough and self-effacing with an irreverent sense of humor.

I had the incredible privilege of being one of Dave’s and Pattie Whiting’s students in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s housing practice from 2009 to 2011. At the Bureau and Housing Court, Dave was truly a hero. During our very first day at Housing Court, Dave rushed from shepherding around his new students to jumping straight into winning motions for low-income tenants he had met in the hallway only minutes beforehand. He never hesitated for a moment to help a client about to lose his or her home.

Dave expected the same fierce determination from his students. He always pushed us to challenge ourselves by taking on more and more cases, by delivering the best possible work for our clients, and by developing new tools for advocating for low-income communities. Many times, especially during my first year at the Bureau, Dave pushed me past what I had thought was (but what was not) my breaking point, helping me see that I was capable of delivering more. I am grateful to Dave for this perhaps more than anything else. Without Dave’s pushing and encouragement, I am certain I would not be a legal aid lawyer today.

Dave was not content, however, with simply providing high-quality representation to as many low-income individuals as possible (although he undoubtedly provided outstanding representation to many). His true passions were using direct representation as a tool to support social justice movements and mentoring his students to join him in the fight. He spent nearly every Tuesday night with his team of students at City Life/Vida Urbana—a community organizing group leading the fight against foreclosure-related displacement—counseling tenants facing potential eviction, and then joining CLVU members in chanting “When we fight, we win!” He then jumped immediately into overseeing his students in preparing for Housing Court on Thursday, where he ensured that every single person facing a foreclosure-related eviction had representation. The week wrapped up with him supervising his students in running a pro se foreclosure defense clinic on Friday, and then conducting outreach to others facing foreclosure on Saturday.

Despite this demanding pace, Dave never seemed to grow tired. Instead, he seemed to thrive on it, answering emails from his students late into the night and sometimes showing up to Saturday’s foreclosure outreach with his children alongside him. Dave’s energy ensured that he always had a following of students willing to join him, and helped to spread CLVU and Dave’s law and organizing model for fighting foreclosures to cities across the country.

But perhaps what was most amazing about Dave was how, despite mentoring hundreds of students over the course of his career, he managed to have a different relationship with each of us. Indeed, as much as it sometimes drove me crazy, I have found myself missing Dave’s intentionally mispronouncing my last name at every possible opportunity (look up “macher” in a Yiddish dictionary) more than his superhuman qualities. I will also always be grateful for how he continued writing to me, as well as so many other students, to offer advice and words of encouragement years after we graduated, even when he was far sicker than I was willing to believe. And although it has been incredibly difficult to find meaning in Dave’s untimely passing, there is no doubt that Dave’s legacy will live on through his clients, his students and the movement he inspired.

Marielle Macher ’11 is a legal aid lawyer with the Community Justice Project in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.