KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On Friday at The Foundry at World’s Fair Park, a new community group made its official debut while also celebrating Tennessee’s first Hispanic trial judge.

Judge Hector Sanchez was sworn in as the sixth judicial district criminal court judge back in October 2022 and on Friday his peers and community leaders in Knox County gathered to formally honor him while also officially launching the Knoxville Latino Bar Association.

The KLBA has memberships open to the bench and bar, law students and other legal professionals in the greater Knoxville area. The group is recognized by the Tennessee Bar Association.

Judge Sanchez spoke with WATE 6 On Your Side about KLBA’s role in the journeys of up-and-coming legal professionals who also represent the Hispanic or Latino community.

“I think it’s fantastic – the emergence of the Knoxville Latino Bar Association with the amount of talent that we have in two law schools that are available,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s very important to have an establishment, an organization where we can try to retain that local talent here in Knox County.”

“There’s a sense of camaraderie, a uniformity, a sense of fulfilling a purpose,” Sanchez added. “I think if we’re able to form groups like this, it’s only going to help the legal community.”

Willie Santana, KLBA’s founding director of membership, said the group’s launch is about mentoring local Hispanic and Latino talent while also celebrating Sanchez as a professional for the younger legal professionals to look to as an example.

“The first goal is to get some community established for Hispanic and Latino lawyers in the Knoxville area,” Santana said ahead of the sold-out event. “We have two excellent law schools that bring a lot of very talented students in, but, what ends up happening is that we lose them. So our number-one goal is to establish community so that way we can retain them. Going forward, (the goal) is to continue mentoring these lawyers so that we have not just one Hector Sanchez, but maybe five, six, 12 in the near future and continue to grow that representation on the bench and at all levels of the bar.”

Friday’s event was sold out to 120 attendees representing the greater Knoxville area’s legal community as well as the Hispanic and Latino community.

The 2020 U.S. Census indicates that East Tennessee is diversifying with more Hispanic and Latino residents in the area than in previous census data. Data from the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Tennessee’s total Hispanic and Latino population is around 6.9%.

As communities grow, representation matters.

As far as sharing his story with others who may be considering the legal profession and beyond, Sanchez offered advice from his own experience.

“I have kind of a unique story – I came from living in public housing at one time to deciding to be in control of what I was going to be,” Sanchez said. “Not defined by the circumstances that I lived in at the time, and ultimately there’s a lot of opportunities for you to take advantage of in life. For me, that came through the military. I had those values to work towards my ultimate dreams in life, my goals.”

For more information about the KLBA and membership, visit the organization’s website.