Local Voice: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is symbol of freedom

By Zenell Brown

I want to be there when Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the Oath of Office and becomes the newest associate justice.

I can’t count the number of judicial investitures I have attended. It’s one of the best parts of my job as a court administrator. I am moved each and every time when I see the processional of the judges and hear, “All rise.” Every time harkens me back to my first time and the feelings of anticipation and excitement of getting dressed up to be a part of something significant and special.

My actual first time was the investiture for Judge Lydia Nance Adams of Detroit’s 36th District Court. It was before I even knew what court administration was.

I recall Judge Nance Adams, her husband Darryl, her mom, her extended family and guests being adorned in their Sunday best in the large auditorium at the City-County Building. Lydia was the first person I knew firsthand that came from the community and ascended to a position of judgeship. She was a young Black lawyer. Her perseverance, her community engagement, and the presence and support of family propelled her forward. As a young Black woman becoming a judge, she was both an inspiration and affirmation that I too similarly situated could achieve big goals.

Her investiture spoke to me as a young, Black, first-generation, woman lawyer. I am equally certain many Black girls and women who attended her investiture whispered “Me too” to their future selves.

Enthused and hopeful, I began to practice law in earnest a year later. But honestly, I had internalized limits of what I could do or what we could do as Black women lawyers. We were mostly first generational lawyers who lacked access to many opportunities in a profession where most of the professionals did not look like us.

Those walls of limitations began to crack as my colleagues and I ascended to various positions, and Michelle Obama became First Lady. The fissure widened when Kamala Harris became vice president and Mattel created the Black Judge Barbie. My mindset was that we would stay the course and gain incremental wins. But the walls came tumbling down with the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The bells of freedom rang in my mind and soul: “I am free. We are free. No limits.” Regardless of our feelings, the emancipation of our minds from the limiting thoughts of what justice looked like had occurred in that moment.

There are so many symbols of freedom in America. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is one for all Black girls and women, but especially for the ones like me who love to argue and advocate for fairness, equality, and justice. I can think of no place I’d rather be than in the room when Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sits in the ceremonial chair of Chief Justice Marshall, raises her melanated right hand to take the oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and becomes our 116th justice, our 6th woman justice, and our first Black woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.