When I was in the seventh grade, we had a career day in one of my classes.
Before the day arrived, we were instructed to choose a career and come to school dressed as someone from our chosen profession. The profession I chose was a lawyer.
On career day, I showed up wearing a suit jacket and carrying an attaché case. I honestly do not recall from where the idea or notion of being a lawyer had come.
To my knowledge, I had not met any lawyers up to that point in my life. What I do recall is my choice was decisive and firm.
Excitedly, I stood before the class and declared I would one day be a lawyer. It was a proclamation from which I never wavered.
I was a high school senior in 1993 when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was named to the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, her nomination by President Bill Clinton occurred the same week as my graduation.
The timing and significance of her elevation to the highest court in our land was undeniably important to me.
Here, I was a soon-to-be lawyer a few months away from entering college; my major, political science, had already been selected. And, there she was, headed to the Supreme Court, as only the second woman in our nation’s history.
I graduated college and went directly on to law school. As God directed, I attended the historic Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. The hallowed place that had been the incubator of our nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
It was Marshall, and Howard Law professors and students, who crafted the legal strategy that would undo the doctrine of separate but equal.
The Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education would go on to become the linchpin of much of the legislation that came from the civil rights movement.
It was this same strategy, and case law, that then attorney Ginsburg used to make her arguments for gender equality decades later. Arguments that she made before the very court upon which she would one day sit.
I never met Ruth Bader Ginsburg personally. Nevertheless, I, like so many others, must say her life and legacy has had a major impact upon my journey.
As a Black woman attorney, who now serves as a senior pastor in a formerly Southern Baptist church, it is not an overstatement to say that if not for her intelligence, legal acumen and courage, I may not be where I am.
Ginsburg would often say she had been fortunate to be a lawyer and to be given the opportunity to raise her voice to promote that the equal treatment of women and men under the law is a right secured by our Constitution.
In actuality, she was much more than just fortunate. She was ordained and set apart for such a time and task as this.
It is too soon to know exactly what will become of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy in the short-term. So much of the case law affirming equality and justice that she worked to establish, from both sides of the bench, seems to be in jeopardy depending upon who is named as her successor.
That notwithstanding, I am grateful for the long-term legacy she established and that cannot be undone or erased. I am thankful for her legacy of perseverance and how she passionately stood by her principles.
It takes perseverance to achieve almost anything in life. This is especially true if you are either the first, or one of the first, seeking to accomplish a feat.
As a woman, Ginsburg found herself as one of the very few in both her college and law school classes. She was challenged to prove her worth at every turn, and even when she excelled, she was denied the benefits her male counterparts were readily afforded.
And yet, she persevered. I would we all could follow her example.
Whether it feels good at the moment or not, what James declares is nonetheless true, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind … know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-3).
Passion can show up in various ways in our lives. This was true of Justice Ginsburg’s life. What I appreciate is she stayed singularly focused on representing herself and her gender well and that she never seemed to lose focus on the big picture.
Some will no doubt say she should have retired years ago when President Obama was in office. Had she done so, perhaps her successor would have assuredly been someone who shared her same ideologies and understandings of the law.
Instead, she chose to serve out her lifelong appointment as long as she could do so with strength and vigor. It was her choice to make. I cannot help but believe she did so for the best of reasons.
She was a graceful, principled and passionate woman who, especially due to the celebrity status she achieved late in life, understood she was making a difference not only through her career, but also through her living.
She made a difference to the hundreds of clients she represented throughout her career.
She made a difference to her law clerks whose lives and careers she helped to shape.
She made a difference to her fellow justices, forming friendships and building consensus even with those whom she had a decidedly different interpretation of the law.
And, she made a difference to me.
Ginsburg once said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
I could not agree more. I will continue to use my life each day to ensure her words are realized.
An ordained preacher, writer and encourager, Bridgeforth serves as the senior pastor of the Church at Clarendon located in Arlington, Virginia. Licensed to preach in 2007 and ordained in 2012, she later graduated magna cum laude from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University with a Master of Divinity. Before entering ministry full-time, she practiced law, receiving her Juris Doctorate cum laude from the Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC