Graduating Law school has been my biggest and most challenging achievement to this day. Obviously, this achievement has not been without sacrifices or countless failures but picking up the pieces and pushing forward is what matters most. Michelle Obama once said to paraphrase that life might present failures at some point but the only way to overcome those failures is to keep going. Here is a little bit about my background. I was born in a small African country of Uganda, the opportunities there are few and far in between not exactly the same as in this country. I called Uganda home until I was 14. When I got to this country at 15, I made a decision that I was going to rewrite my own story. That I was going to work hard and achieve my dreams.
A couple of years earlier I had watched this series show “Soul Food” and I loved Nicole Ari Parker’s character. Even to this day, her character still inspires me. Many people will make the argument that, this is just a show, that it is just acting. I disagree with that assessment though. There is still quite a limited number of black lawyers in this country. Minority groups need a lot more advocators that they can relate to. People that understand the issues facing the community, people that have gone through some of the same experiences that they go through. I tried to watch the show “How do I get away with murder” with Viola Davis. Her character is strong and inspiring but Parker’s character still resonates with me more than others partly because I watched it as a child.
I had to find a way to achieve my dreams knowing well that there will be a lot of people that would despise what I choose to do with my life. But I did not care, this was my life and not theirs. It is a widely held belief in the small immigrant community I am a part of that the only way to be successful in this country, is to become a nurse. Any other career choice is suicide and many consider you a total failure. Unfortunately, I really wanted to break the norm and pursue my passion and I was determined to do all it takes to achieve my dreams.
At 25 the plan was to finish school, find a job, start a family and even buy a house in that order. One day as I travelled to Chicago to visit my sister, I sat with an air hostess who was going to work. We talked about different things and the topic of plans came up. I told her my plan. She told me to dump it and I remember thinking to myself that I was determined to execute it. Almost 3 years later I have dumped the plan. Why? Well, I realize that I have to deal with the odds and face reality. To be clear I haven’t given up on my plan. Just that, it is possible that my plan will not be implemented in the time frame I thought it would.
The odds are that as an African-American woman, I am at a triple disadvantage because (1) I am a woman, (2) black, and (3) that I chose a career that may be difficult to break through and male dominated (law). Some people might argue that I am pulling the woman and the race card. On the contrary, many articles describe a trend of African-American women earning more college degrees in recent years and yet we are still at a very big disadvantage in terms of finding good jobs and even pay something that other groups do not struggle with as much. It is true that women in general are still at a higher disadvantage than men when it comes to these issues but black women face it worse.
This article https://www.brookings.edu/.../black-women-are-earning-more-college-degrees-but-th… Illustrates best the issues we face. There are a number of articles out there with talking points of black women being the most educated group in this country. While this claim is totally not true, it is not totally false either. Black women are putting themselves in positions of success and yet they are still the mostly underrepresented, undervalued group in the corporate world as well as law firms.
Perhaps, the sad part is that there is not as much a good portrayal of an African-American woman. Television shows like Bravo’s Real housewives of Atlanta, Married to Medicine or even VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta portray black women in a very negative way with fighting, lies and gossip. With these shows airing and seeking ratings, the odds are against many of us seeking mid-level to leadership positions in the world.
To be clear there are influential black women like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice and even Meghan Markle to mention but a few. The sample size is very small though. My position is that law firms need to take chances on women of color in order to close the diversity gap in law firms. It is imperative that law firms and companies start thinking about diversity as something that helps the country in general and not just the firm. It is easy to claim and even put on company websites pictures portraying diversity and yet that is simply not the case. As for many women of color it is very frustrating, putting in the work and just hoping that maybe you might be lucky enough to become part of a select few that make it out of the bunch.
The legal community needs to step up and as an advocator it’s my job to speak up. True diversity should start being a part of the conversation. Maybe in the long run we can eliminate companies just talking about diversity and actually staying engaged in the diversity conversation. When each group is growing, the country as a whole grows. Only when issues such as this gets more attention, equality can seem real in all walks of life.