Fire and Ice
Why John Mancebo cannot not succeed
Published in 2018 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine
on September 13, 2018
Updated on October 3, 2018
Childhood friends, John Mancebo feels, would find it funny that he wound up playing ice hockey. “The closest I had come to snow before moving to the U.S.,” he says, “was the frost that would accumulate in our freezer.”
Thirty years ago, Mancebo’s family moved here from the Dominican Republic. He is now a 38-year-old husband, father and labor employment attorney at Tressler who spends his spare time volunteering—all for one very good reason.
“My mother: Benita Patino,” he says. “She was a single parent, and she worked three jobs, and for me there wasn’t an option for me to not succeed. She left her business in the Dominican Republic, and left everything to come here to work at a hair salon and clean offices. Seven days a week she worked so that I could not want for anything and have those opportunities.
“I felt that to have not done well, or to not have completed school, would have been a slap in the face to all the sacrifices she made.”
Mancebo is also a founding member of The Water Street Club, a 2-year-old network for diverse insurance professionals. “Growing up in Westchester County, I was in a very diverse school,” he says, “but as I progressed in my educational career, it just got less and less diverse. … When I got to law school, I believe I was one of maybe four or five Latinos in the law school at the time. And then you get to law firms. At my previous firm, I think I was one of three partners that were Latino out of 190 partners around the country. So it’s an issue that I just came to realize was ongoing. We’ve made great strides towards diversity, but there’s a long way to go.”
A former high school hockey player and a longtime New Jersey Devils fan, Mancebo regularly volunteered as a coach for Ice Hockey in Harlem, the 31-year-old nonprofit that introduces city kids to hockey. Likewise, Mancebo travels once a year to the Dominican Republic to work with baseball teams, coaches and players to help keep a focus on education.
“As much as baseball is the American pastime, it’s the Dominican pastime, and every Major League team has at least one facility there,” he says. “But if they don’t make it, there’s no alternative for them. They have no education. A lot of them can’t read or write well, and they’re stuck with menial jobs. … Even if an athlete makes it to a professional level, history is littered with examples of athletes who had skills on the field but were not able to keep their earnings long term.”
A few years ago, a cousin reached out to Mancebo about her son, who was getting attention from MLB scouts. “My advice has always been that his first job is school, and baseball is second,” he says. “Apparently my cousin’s son is one of the few kids in my extended family that listened to my constant speeches—some would say rants—about the importance of school, as he has maintained an A average for the last few years.”
He adds: “Major League Baseball is a great organization,” he says, “and I would love to one day see the league push the baseball system in Dominican Republic to provide even a quarter of the educational opportunities that similar standout athletes in our collegiate system in the U.S. have been able to benefit from.”
John’s wife, Elizabeth Del Cid, is also an attorney and partner, with a similar background: She was born in L.A. to Mexican immigrants. “Her father built everything they had himself and it was something that just, to me, showed the drive of the immigrant population. We had that as well.”
The two have another source of inspiration: 17-month-old Luna Gira Mancebo.
“In Spanish, ‘Gira’ is ‘journey’—and also my grandmother’s nickname—and ‘Luna’ is ‘moon,’” says John. “We were loosely going for ‘Journey to the Moon.’ I feel like everything I’m doing, with all of these initiatives that I’m a part of, they’re all going to help make things better for her. Even if it’s just slightly better, I’ll be satisfied by that.”