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A seat at the table

A seat at the table

By Nia Martin

The first time I heard the phrase, “A seat at the table”, all I knew was that it was the name of an album by Solange Knowles. I didn’t know what it meant. Did it actually mean sitting at a table? Did Solange just need a seat?

When I came to learn its definition — someone who has power, the ability to impact, to make a difference, to have a say, to contribute — I finally understood.

Black women have been fighting for “a seat a table” for centuries, fighting so that our voices can be heard, our faces can be seen.

That phrase perfectly describes the mission of Ketanji Jackson Brown, and why she was nominated by President Joe Biden to become the first Black woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court — in its 233-year history.

That phrase can be used to describe the hours, days, and years she has spent preparing herself.

That phrase also can be used to describe the grueling days she spent being questioned by members of the U.S. Senate.

It can be used to describe her journey that began on September 14, 1970.

Born in Washington D.C. and later raised in Miami, Brown started her journey on a mission. Inspired by her father, who at the time entered law school, she made a decision — as early as in preschool — to pursue law. Throughout her schooling, she pursued this mission.

A high-achieving student, she aimed to go to Harvard, despite doubters — including her high school guidance counselor who told her that her sights were “set too high.”

Jackson was not deterred. She went on to attend Harvard, major in Government, and graduate in 1992.

But she wasn’t finished. Realizing there was more to be done, she returned a year later to attend Harvard Law, graduating with a law degree in 1996.

Considering all that Jackson had done, she certainly had earned a seat.

But it was not yet at the right table.

From there on, she carved a full path for herself. After graduation, Jackson worked for years as a law clerk for many officials, and in private practice firms. She sought every opportunity in the law industry to learn, grow, achieve and advance. Her hard work paid off.

She was acknowledged and nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and voted in in 2013.

As she continued working, her skills became still more recognized, leading to the ultimate achievement in her industry: her Supreme Court nomination by now-president Joe Biden, her ability to calmly weather attacks and accusations during questioning by the Senate, and finally, her being confirmed as the 116th associate justice on the Supreme Court, and first Black woman.

She made a seat at the table.

Seeing Jackson, a Black woman, come this far — after having faced and conquered all the obstacles to her success — and then to see her “fight” for her seat at the table, has inspired so many others to do the same. We saw the determination and passion in Jackson’s heart. We saw the fire that was lit in her soul; and it ignited ours.

Tiffany Atkins, an opinion contributor to USA Today, described the importance of representation and how Jackson is now seen as a role model after what she achieved.

Atkins sees Jackson the same way she saw characters like Clair Huxtable from “The Cosby Show” or Kim Reese from “A Different World.” They cast an image of what is possible.

She wrote, “In a country where Black people – and especially Black women – have been attacked and criticized for our hair, our bodies and our ambition, it was a joy to see Jackson, brown-skinned and brilliant, share the stage with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as she accepted her nomination.”

That is the impact that seeing a Black woman reach Jackson’s level of accomplishment can have on young Black women everywhere. It can ignite their passions, and fuel their journeys.

Take, for example, some of the praise coming from students and alum of law schools across the country. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve never seen faces who look like me and who I identify with on this nation’s highest court, something that I one day hope to argue in front of,” said Cheyenne Freely, alum of Georgetown Law and class of ’22. “For this timing to happen in my last semester of law school, it really just hits home in a different way.”

When we see a person that looks like us or has similar characteristics achieve something this exemplary, it sends us a strong and much-needed message about who we are and what we can achieve.

Black women first arrived in this country with chains around their necks, forced to leave behind what they knew. They were forced into an environment where they were torn down, expected to fall to pieces, to lose their passion, lose who they were, lose themselves.

But despite it all, Black women have remembered their mission. They remembered their goal. So many sacrificed and fought to get us to the many tables where we have seats today.

And because of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, young Black women like myself know we can fight for seats at even bigger tables tomorrow.

Nia Martin is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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