I’ve always been surrounded by a host of resilient people who modeled confidence. My grandmother ensured that my identity was a core value of my life. She often shared memories of her grandmother, born into slavery, or her father, a sharecropper, or her own challenges climbing out of southern poverty to self-determination. That deep, rich personal history propels me forward every day. My mother is the hardest-working woman I know, who overcame immense obstacles growing from a struggling young mother to a businesswoman with multiple degrees.
I have no shortage of personal examples of perseverance. In spite of those examples, like many people, I struggle with a lingering self-doubt that questions my abilities. The feelings aren’t debilitating, nor do they outweigh my confidence. But, they are there.
October of 2019, just one year ago, feels like a different world.
I had just received my LSAT score as I was sitting at a car service shop with my laptop, waiting for an oil change and completing my first law school applications. I remember the poorly formatted sinkhole that is the LSAC website, and obsessing over every comma and margin—imagining some doomsday scenario in which a tweedy and officious admissions officer made a decision based on some typo I had neglected or word I had misused.
I figured that after a few months of apprehensively refreshing my Outlook junk folder (where all my law school emails automatically went for reasons I’ve never been able to determine) I would start receiving admissions decisions. I imagined flying from place to place, attending admitted students’ weekends and trying to figure out what the next chapter looked like for me. I also imagined where I would be a year later, attending class and getting to know new people.
Waiting for those decisions proved difficult. I spent my downtime watching movies. This helped me take my mind off of the admissions message boards that I scrolled through each day, examining the auguries’ of my peers’ decision results to try and predict how I might fare.
In an old World War II movie I watched, there was a scene in which a pilot regaled his buddies about the travails of “flying blind” through dense cloud cover and fog across the English Channel. The phrase stuck with me. It perfectly described where I was at, and what little I knew about what was on the horizon.
While attending University of Chicago in 2018, I had the good fortune to have a part-time job as a community outreach coordinator for the soon-to-be-released “RBG” documentary. On premiere night at the Chicago Gold Coast theater the Chicagoans I had come to know turned out in force. The gray-haired justice book group was followed by some little girls with their mothers. Film buffs, law students, elected officials, and a church group were all present and excited to learn more about this notorious intellectual giant. Everyone was moved by her story. The little girl who went in wearing an RBG costume came out standing a little taller in her black robe and jabot. This was the power of her transcendent appeal.
About five years ago, I stumbled onto some Afrofuturist art in a market in northern Uganda. I was moving through a maze of kitenge stalls when I came to a makeshift gallery that a young artist had set up in a forgotten corner of the market. One of his pieces was of a dramatic skyline, with arched spires climbing into the sky, draped in tropical vegetation. In the foreground, people in stylized, angular kitenge clothes were walking through a bustling public square. I asked him what it was and he said, “It’s the Kampala of the future.”
In contrast to a lot of antiseptic and tech-centric futurism, his mix of sci-fi architecture, verdant ecology, traditional culture, and civic harmony suggested that the ideal future would incorporate a healthy dose of the past. It reminded me of an aphorism from the other side of the African continent, embodied in the adinkra symbol, Sankofa, which depicts a bird with its head turned backward, retrieving an egg. The Sankofa symbol and word convey the idea that in moving forward, it is important to bring along what is essential from the past.
With abortion rights before the Supreme Court this term, I’ve been thinking about the metaphor that brought privacy—and by extension, reproductive health rights—under Constitutional protection. In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Douglas reasoned that enumerated individual rights “have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Douglas analyzed these penumbras to extend the zones of individual rights, frustrating dedicated textualists who saw no justification for them in the language of the Constitution.
It might be helpful to pause here and clarify exactly what a penumbra is. Hold an object up in front of a light source so that it casts a shadow on a nearby surface: at the center of the shadow will be its most focused darkness, its umbra; move your gaze out to the border of the shadow, to where it meets the light, and you will see a zone of unfocused shadow, a kind of half-light called the penumbra. In Douglas’s metaphor, a certain set of enumerated rights are the umbra and the unenumerated right to privacy is their penumbra, giving them life and substance.
I grew up in a pretty traditional South Asian household. I’ve tried talking about the Black Lives Matter movement numerous times before, but my family just didn’t seem too invested in it. Most of the time, I would just give up. Because it was just too frustrating.
But that’s the problem, right? These are just events that we hear about or see in the news, just optional conversations that we can opt in or out of. But for black people in America, this is reality. It’s not just another life lost; it is yet another manifestation of the unhinged, systemic racism that we allallow to continue and continue to allow.
Black people in America don’t get to choose to live in constant fear. They don’t get to choose that law enforcement dehumanizes them. So it feels inherently wrong that my community gets to choose whether or not we care.
BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau sent the letter below earlier this week to the BC Law community, and I thought it was important enough to share here on BC Law Impact. I have also written about this issue in my recent post Black Lives Matter.
Dear members of BC Law community:
I know the pain that you are feeling because I am feeling it too. And I am tired. So very, very tired. I am tired of writing these letters over and over again. As a Black man with three sons, I am tired of the fear I must carry when they are out moving through their lives in a country where the lives of people of color are so easily extinguished. I am tired of the sickening legacy of racism in this county and of being told not to talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable. Our nation is in crisis and we cannot continue to ignore the fact that the fabric of our society is being shredded by many among us who refuse to recognize our shared humanity.
“Go home. Be with your family. Live simply and with integrity. Consume only what you need. Be generous with each other.”
That is the gist of much of Leviticus 25, where God issues instructions for the Jubilee. The jubilee is a kind of year-long Sabbath, occurring after “seven weeks of years, seven times seven years”—i.e., every 50th year. But in addition to the typical Sabbath’s rest and worship, the Jubilee is also a time of mercy and compassion: enslaved people are freed, debts are forgiven, and economic relations are subordinated to fundamental human needs. God assures Moses that the land will be capable of feeding and sheltering the people and so they must, “observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely.”
This guest blog from Italian student Maria Antonietta Sgro came to us from BC Law professor Katie Young. Professor Young had been scheduled to co-teach a course on law and technology in Italy this spring with professor Amedeo Santosuosso at the University of Pavia, but when his students went into lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the class was canceled. Professor Young invited the students to share their reflections on how their lives had been impacted by this disease, and Maria’s post below is one particularly moving answer.
It’s not a random number. Maybe for some it’s insignificant, and for others it doesn’t mean anything. But for me it represents a barrier. A wall of distance that separates me from what has been my home, full of love, life, laughter, the sea and–last but not least–my family for 19 years.
I’m writing from my desk, illuminated with a lamp, because here in Pavia (in the northern part of Italy) it’s already dark at 6:45 p.m. Even though I can’t see anything from my window, I used to be able to know the difference between the sunrise, when the morning flowed fast, and the sunset, when the silence became comfortably pleasant after a long day full of noise. But now there seems to be no difference between day and night. Silence is my master, and I am always seeing gray.
I no longer hear the little birds singing; in good weather, their singing was pleasant. I no longer hear the children leaving school, screaming with happiness. I no longer hear my neighbor. Sometimes it seems that I no longer feel myself.
It’s like everything is rumbling, a deep echo with no return.
Studying for final exams in law school is stressful. The stakes are high, the hours are long, and the despair can…fester. I was generally aware of the pressure built into a grading system centered around distributive bell curves when I enrolled, but in my first week at Boston College the reality set in. Something terrible happened: I met my peers, and they were every kind of smart, impressive and terrifying. They were students coming from across the country and around the world, some from THOSE big name schools and others with remarkable professional experience.
Naturally I compared them to myself, the dumbest person I know. That was a bad move for my self-confidence, but sometimes you just have to keep moving forward. So, that’s what I did heading into finals season.