Inspiration, Wisdom and Impact: The Essentialness of Mindset.
It is difficult to describe how it felt last month when Ketanji Jackson Brown was sworn in as an Associate Justice to the highest court in the land. As a Black woman living in the U.S. for my entire life (interrupted with consistent forays to other countries).
I have been profoundly aware of the ways that women, in general, and African-American/Black women in particular (as well as my Indigenous and Women of Color sisters), continue to suffer from both glass ceilings and sticky floors across a range of industries.
Only 74 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies (15%) — a fifty percent uptick from just a little over a year ago [March 2021] and a huge leap from twenty years ago when female heads of Fortune 500 numbered only 7. But of those 74 only 2 of them are Black – that’s a lackluster 2% – you do the math. (sigh)
As a tenth grader at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, I took a law and justice course. I wrote a report on the Warren Court, one of the most influential Supreme Courts impacting domestic civil rights issues — at the young age of 14, I was stunned that a judicial entity could have such a substantive impact on the laws and lives of its citizens. It was then and there that I was inspired to aspire to be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.
That vision of being a changemaker to create a country and a world devoted to justice propelled my life and commitment to activism. I grew up believing that somehow all things were possible: fueled by a hefty sense of naivete, an extremely slow-growing development of my social identify as a West Coast-raised, middle class Black woman, a lack of understanding systemic inequity — all elements which evolved as I grew into my activism and commitment to be an initiator of change.
So it’s an interesting journey of mindset as we say at MEA. I grew up with an expansive sense of possibility that at times was extraordinarily challenged and beaten up (literally and in some cases, not just figuratively) but I kept to it because of my expansive mindset.
And I am sure every BIPOC woman will resonate with the intersectionality of race and gender (and class, immigrant status, etc.) that colludes to dismantle our mindset of what constitutes possibility, passion, success, legitimacy and achievement. So often, women but especially African-American women, are taught, shown and bullied into a mindset of perfectionism or settling into ‘good enough,’ working five times as hard for half the acknowledgement, or suffering the indignities of blatant racism or subtle digs and micro-aggressions as we saw at Justice Jackson Brown’s confirmation hearings.
It is a combination of mindset, affirmation of decades-long accumulating wisdom, understanding and embodying grace that the country and the world witnessed history last month. It was the witnessing of grace, fortitude and brilliance of Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown.
This is why ever so recently, Michelle, Serena and Venus, Meghan, Tarana, Regina, and now Ketanji, propel our imaginations and signify the penultimate in what is possible for women of African descent. These role models help us see what is possible at an individual level despite the larger, structural oppositional mindsets of a system insisting that Black women are less than (in the face of what we know to be true about Black women).
So although I ultimately did not pursue law as my profession, decades later I can cry at the confirmation and swearing in of the first African American female Supreme Court justice.
** This post uses the phrase African-American, Black, women of African descent, and BIPOC(Black, Indigenous, People of Color) interchangeably to signify women who are descendants of enslaved people originally from the African continent, generations later who find themselves living in the United States and around the world. It is not out of political correctness but a sign of respect given that there are numerous ways to say who we are.
(Rev. Dr.) Diane J. Johnson, Ph.D. is CEO/Founder of Mmapeu Consulting, a culture weaver of organizational change and a two-time Alumnae of MEA. She is currently serving on the planning team and a co-facilitator for the Black Modern Elder Academy week: Telling Our Stories, Claiming Our Power, Celebrating Our Spirits, October 9-16, 2022.