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More Than a Person, a People’s Experience: Ketanji Brown Jackson

16 Mar 2022

Jackson’s legacy will not be defined solely by the actions and decisions she makes but also by the impact of a Black woman’s perspective on the Supreme Court for the first time in America’s history. 

By Phoebe Omonira, she/her

As human beings, when we are faced with challenges on a day-to-day basis, we often pull on our past experiences for guidance on how to handle these challenges. Our past experiences shape our perspective, help us make decisions, and are our frame of reference for how we perceive the world and interact with our community. Now apply this principle to the recent nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, a legal system built on a complicated history of oppression and inequality, it begs the question: How will her experience and perspective shape our nation’s legal system? 

Jackson will be the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. She graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude and Harvard Law School where she graduated cum laude. As the daughter of a lawyer, and student body president of her high school, Jackson represents a driven, hardworking, and intelligent figure that many little Black girls will have to look up to not only in the present day but in the history books as well. 

During her time as a public defender, Jackson championed rehabilitation and was struck at how little those she represented understood the judicial system. With mandatory minimums for smaller drug crimes being a hot issue in the circles she worked in it comes as no surprise that Jackson’s rulings, when she later became a federal court judge in 2012, were given with a level of grace and empathy I hope to see ripple throughout our judicial system.   

While Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court is historical, worth celebrating, and long overdue, it would be remiss to not take this moment to reflect on how she is not only making history for the color of her skin but for the rich wisdom, there is to be found in her lived experiences. Buzzwords like “a seat at the table,” “diversity,” and “change-making,” have been seen in the media lately, but Jackson’s impact can’t be reduced to a box that is to be checked in the Diversity and Inclusion section of an HR form.

 Jackson’s nomination is historic because of the weight she will hold as a Justice and in turn the systematic reform we hope to see her implement that she's championed since her time as a public defender and a federal court justice. Her value isn’t rooted in her being an instrument of progressive policies, or as a face to the promise of change we’ve heard from the Biden administration, but in her as an individual.  

Her value lies in her ability to bring her full self to the highest courtroom in this nation. Everything else is a byproduct of that action. In a world constantly telling us who to be, how to act, and what to say. I hope that little Black girls—when they see her addressing the nation with her natural hair—can see her for her before they see the headlines describing whom the world thinks she is. I hope the same for every individual in this nation. I hope that the Black women shouldering more than they should have to at work, in their homes, within their families, feel empowered to consistently find their value and foundation in the power of their experiences. That they see themselves as individuals. That they do not let their experiences be tokenized or shared in a way that doesn’t feel authentic. Because there is no one way to be a Black woman. Although our experiences are unique, the common struggles and joys we share as Black women are what makes Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination so impactful. Because it’s not just about the law, it’s about us as a community of Black people. 

It is less about the color of her skin and more about the history that lies within her, the Black joy she feels, the Black love she has, and the resilience built up inside of her overtime as a driven African American woman. Jackson’s legacy will not be defined solely by the actions and decisions she makes but also by the impact of a Black woman’s perspective on the Supreme Court for the first time in America’s history. 

Written by Phoebe Omonira for Youth To The People

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