‘A tireless advocate’: Legal community remembers attorney Anita Santos-Singh

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Anita Santos-Singh was just 32 years old when she was named Executive Director of Philadelphia Legal Assistance in 1996, the first in agency history.

On Jan. 13, 2024, Santos-Singh died. She was 59.

Maureen Olives, the now interim executive director of PLA and a close friend, said thousands of Philadelphians felt the impact of her work.

“She shepherded and nurtured and grew a program that has been around for 20-some years,” Olives said, adding that because of her leadership, “People have been able to live in their homes. People have been free from abuse from intimate partner violence. People have received critical benefits and sources of income that have kept them from being homeless, or [having to] live in a situation that wasn’t safe [for] them. The list goes on and on and on.”

Olives said Santos-Singh’s work was built with the core values of dignity and respect. She remembers her late friend as an “enormously funny person” and “wonderful teacher.”

Santos-Singh moved from the border town of Brownsville, Texas, to Philadelphia for her undergraduate law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning her graduate degree at the University of Michigan Law School, she returned to Philadelphia.

In one of many public remembrances, she was called a trailblazer for Latina attorneys in the region.

“Anita was a tireless advocate for access to justice who dedicated her life to helping Philadelphia’s most vulnerable populations meet critical needs including economic, family and physical safety and stability,” read a statement by the Philadelphia Bar Association. “She loved to laugh out loud, to dance, and to enjoy good food. She was thoughtful, kind, inquisitive and loving.”

One of her mentors, Loui Rulli, of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, said Santos-Singh was never satisfied with the status quo.

“For more than 25 years, Anita shaped Philadelphia Legal Assistance to be on the front lines of confronting oppressive race and income disparities, protecting individuals and families, and striving for the greatest community impact possible,” Rulli said in a statement.

Colleagues and friends said Santos-Singh forged the path for vulnerable communities such as low-income migrant workers. One of her first roles was as a housing attorney in the Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia in 1989, where she worked for seven years. The organization shared a statement on Facebook:

“Many of us at CLS had the honor of knowing Anita and working side-by-side with her for many years to fight for justice. She was a wonderful colleague and friend. We will miss her tremendously.”

  • January 18, 2024
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