Heroes are Hard to Come By

A Word of Gratitude for the Notorius RBG

I met her quite by accident. I mean, I don’t believe in coincidences and accidents in God’s economy; it was not supposed to happen. I was a senior in high school. My “Affecting Political Change” class traveled to Washington, DC to see our learning at work. We were so excited that we were going to the Supreme Court and learning from an Associate Justice. Some of us were a little disappointed that Justice Ginsburg was not available on the day that we would visit. Regardless, the excitement was palpable when we bounded up those iconic steps and into the halls of justice.

The Notorius R.B.G.

Our tour included all of the historic spaces and discussions of many of the groundbreaking decisions of our nation’s highest court. The host Associate Justice was kind, honest, and generous to our class of ambitious and curious high schoolers. Some of the females mustered up the courage to ask again, “Is Justice Ginsberg available today?” as our disappointed and slightly embarrassed male teacher looked on. “No, she is not available today – but she would have been so glad to meet you.” We gathered our things and scribbled some notes for the paper we were required to write. Next stop, CONGRESS!

And then, could it be?!?, THE JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG circled the corner. No pomp. No circumstance. All grace.

We whispered as we tried to confirm our suspicion that we had just laid eyes on the Notorious RBG. We spent so much time learning about how SHE affected change in our society and the work that she was doing – and there she was. All by herself. She looked like she was on a mission. But she saw us, and she heard our wondering whispering, and she stopped, right IN FRONT OF MEEEEEEE! She said… (I can’t remember because I was mesmerized by her presence. It was one of those time-stopping moments where everything around you is frozen and you’re looking on from beyond yourself).

Awkward teenagers gawked at her while she talked. And I do remember her parting words to us: “Don’t ever stop affecting good change. Our world needs you. There is so much more work to be done.” I’ve never forgotten her kindness, admonition, and the feeling that she left us with – it was as if she expected that we would pursue equity in our nation and our world.

I think I was five years old when I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. That was the same year I started to watch the State of the Union address. In fact, I didn’t miss one until recently. I was probably about twelve when I realized that, while I wanted to practice civil rights law, (spoiler alert) God had other plans for me. That realization didn’t stop me from continuing to aspire to a law career that could affect good change in our world. I continued to be fascinated by politics, policy, and race relations. I majored in political science and took all the Constitutional Law, race relations, and public policy classes that my undergraduate institution offered. And Justice Ginsburg continued to be my hero.

It’s hard for black women to find heroes. Too many times, we have to be the heroes of our own lives and the lives of so many around us. We’re exhausted from the over-functioning and stretching to reach the unrealistic expectations that our society holds for black women. We’re exhausted by holding it all together. We’re exhausted by constantly holding up the blood-stained banner that constantly reminds us of our high responsibility and low worth. We’re exhausted from fighting every step of the way. Black women don’t find many worthy heroes along the way.

Yet, Justice Ginsburg earned her place on my very short list of heroes. She fought “for the things that [she] care[d] about, [and she did] it in a way that [led] others to join [her].” So many joined her! Her fight for equity and equality made room for me in this world. She reminded me that even as people want to treat me as though I am fragile, I’m “fragile not like a flower but fragile like a bomb.” Her presence in this world somehow made my brand of thinking, living, breathing, teaching, and preaching less of an anomaly and more of a requirement.

To the Notorious RBG, thank you.