Last week, like many of you, I was glued to a television screen, watching the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. The hearing was like no other, and would go on to profoundly impact both culture, and our country, at large.
From her humble beginnings, Justice Jackson knew that life was not about settling. Born in Washington D.C. Justice Jackson grew up in Miami, Florida, where she attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School. During her senior year, Justice Jackson competed in and won National Catholic Forensic League national orator championships in New Orleans. Despite her many accomplishments, Justice Jackson still faced discrimination and bias. Her high school guidance counselor told her to set her bar lower, but Justice Jackson proudly declared in her yearbook that she would attend Harvard Law, and one day seek out a judicial appointment. As fate would have it, her skill as an articulate orator would lead her to Harvard University for a speech competition held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Seeing the school, she was inspired to apply. Despite her already lengthy accolades, she knew she lacked the social and life experiences of her Harvard classmates. Even after being accepted, she still found herself wanting to quit, but instead, found encouragement in a stranger – a Black woman who simply told her to "persevere.” As she fought injustice at Harvard, she knew she could not let the power-that-be take away her opportunities. Justice Jackson continued to attend classes, in the midst of her activism work, graduating A.B. magna cum laude. Through every obstacle, she continued to endure, serving Americans as a Public Defender, and later as a District and Circuit Court judge. There was nothing in Justice Jackson's profile that was less than phenomenal. She showed the ones who doubted her that if given the opportunity and the chance, she would excel. And if opportunity was not afforded to her, she would create it on her own, and leave the door open for those behind her.That is the burden of being the "first." Every action you take, and every response you make, will be a marker for others that follow.
Justice Jackson's confirmation is a statement for us to "persevere" and to appreciate the grace by which it means to be first. To face those aiming to discredit you, not just on your skills, abilities, or qualifications, but on what your presence may represent. It is evident that Justice Jackson is capable, deserving, and accomplished to sit on the Supreme Court. As we watched, we saw this talented woman be asked questions outside the scope of her role. She, instead, held her composure, and responded to questions of relevance, not rising to the distraction. Her confirmation vote of 53/47, with three republicans crossing party lines to vote, is a reminder that no matter the obstacles, change will keep pushing forward.
As Maya Angelou said, "still I rise!" This testament reminds us that the blessing being the first is being able to pave a pathway for others to follow. Even as few members of the Senate remained after the confirmation was announced, Justice Jackson stood tall. She models what it means to persevere, even when their are odds stacked against you.
Since the news of her nomination, we have seen the eyes of Black women and girls grow wider as the possibilities for their dreams have expanded. They see two strong Black women in positions of power – a Black Vice-President, and now a Supreme Court Justice; a dream greater than many of our ancestors could have imagined.
So I celebrate the rise of this strong Black woman. I encourage all of us to take a note from Justice Jackson's book and "persevere." To keep challenging the obstacles that show up in our path, and to try every tactic to gracefully overcome and change the idea of what is achievable. When we continue to do meaningful work with a pure heart and clean hands. When you live in integrity, authenticity and grace, your actions will have a profound impact, and will create a legacy that is about opening doors and windows of opportunities and unfathomable spaces for others. This is the blessing and burden that Justice Jackson carries, and as a community, we too can help to lift others by working together with grace to create true equality and change.
Today I celebrate a massive moment in history, and as a Black woman, I am proud!! Our country's highest court looks a little more like America.
[Photo: Lelanie Foster]
Be a part of the conversation, by COMMENTING below, sharing your note of celebration for Justice Jackson and/or your own experience of being FIRST.
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