In 2013, as she watched President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, 7-year-old Veronica Bofah decided she wanted to be just like him. She would go to Harvard and one day be president, too.
Nine years later, the memories are fuzzy, but she remembers everyone around her pointing to Barack and Michelle Obama as the power couple of the moment, and how few Black leaders, especially Black women, she learned about in school.
`”At that age, I didn’t see many influential Black figures who went to Ivy League or really elite schools,” Bofah said. “I like to put quotations around that because it’s very subjective, but that time period was when I started idolizing him. That’s what led me to want to become a role model to other young girls who like look like me.”
Now 17, Bofah has shifted her sights from the presidency to law school. The teenager from Charlotte, North Carolina, wants to represent vulnerable people like immigrants and children who are at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating the legal system. To see Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman and former public defender, nominated to the Supreme Court, felt both empowering and affirming of her own path forward.
“Having someone who knows what it’s like to support clients who are disadvantaged in the system … I think that’s kind of what makes her unique,” Bofah said.
For Black girls, the possibility of Jackson being the first Black woman on the Supreme Court is a moment of promise, hope and the breaking of yet another barrier. But while the symbolism resonates deeply, many are hungry for deeper change that goes beyond just representation.
Rachel McBride, an 18-year-old high school senior in Atlanta, likened the moment more to a glass elevator than a glass ceiling, moving one level up, while keeping in mind the many more levels left to go.
“It’s great to be the first, but you never want to be the last,” McBride said. “One singular person can’t be the one to make change. It has to be followed up by more and more people that are willing to make change.”
When barriers are broken, McBride said, it is often followed by backlash or a feeling that marginalized communities should be satisfied with the symbolism. While Jackson would bring an invaluable perspective to the court, McBride said, it is not lost on her that the balance of the court would remain unchanged if Jackson were confirmed.
Already, some have tried to diminish Jackson’s nomination as affirmative action or discrimination against white people. Whether that strategy continues as her Senate hearing gets underway Monday is something that will be widely watched.
But those who say that are failing to see how unimpeachable Jackson’s accomplishments are, McBride said, from the judge’s Ivy League degree to her experience on the bench.
McBride said it reminded her of attending a summer camp for media studies at the University of Georgia a few years ago. She said she did twice the work of her classmates but was still accused of slacking off by the instructor.
“The really, really stressful thing about being Black, specifically being a Black woman, is that you have to be the best in order to get anywhere,” McBride said.
For Black girls, seeing someone like Jackson, the way she wears her hair, her darker complexion, having a name with African origins, fully embrace her Blackness and ascend to the top of the American judicial system is a reminder that they should not have to shrink themselves in order to succeed.
Breana Fowler, a 17-year-old high school senior in Charlotte who wants to become a lawyer, said her mother used to joke that she would become the first Black woman to be a Supreme Court justice. To see the moment at hand much sooner than either of them thought possible, with someone like Jackson in the role, remains surreal.