Dry Your Tears
Letter To Self, Dry Your Tears
By Jewel F. Williams
With the news of the death of Chadwick Boseman on August 28th I shed tears. I shed tears not only for the far too early loss of this extremely gifted actor, who was only 43 years young, I also shed tears for so many, many more. I shed them for my uncle, Lindsay Williams who lived in Roanoke, VA and died in January, for I lost my only uncle who was such a gentle hearted and humble man and was such a huge part of my life. I shed tears for a good friend and fraternity brother, Jeffrey Ross of Mount Vernon, NY who also passed too early two days earlier on August 26th. I also shed tears for all those who have died unnecessarily since the unchecked, unleashing of COVID-19 in/on our nation, 198,855 souls at the writing of this article and counting. I also shed tears for the loss of decorum, of civility, of national leadership and what was the prestige of the United States of America.
That prestige included a progression, albeit a slow one, but a progression none the less of African-American/Black lives. Along the way capturing videos of police abuse has become commonplace. It is an emotionally charged experience and as in the case of the murder of George Floyd, it can catalyze a movement. It is extremely distressing in 2020 for it to take public video evidence to bring obvious police abuse and racism to the forefront. The Trump presidency has fueled an uptick of police brutality, a willful abandonment of any semblance of decorum and many feel free to exhibit and act upon their racism. The old adage of it being far better for your enemies to be in the open than to hide in plain sight comes to mind, but being armed with a badge and tackling our justice system are totally different dynamics.
I remember in my much younger days when the members of the Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus, Inc. (WBWPC) and many African-Americans in Westchester rallied and assisted in the first campaign of Hon. Kathie E. Davidson, Supervising Judge of the Family Courts for the Ninth Judicial District of New York State. Back then, prior to her judicial career and before judgeship precluded it, she was a WBWPC member and ran to become the first African-American Westchester County Clerk. Although, her first run was unsuccessful, she has certainly been successful and risen through the judicial ranks of New York State. I also remember the efforts of WBWPC and many African Americans in Westchester to campaign and elect Hon. Bruce E. Tolbert, Hon. Sam D. Walker and more recently Hon. Janet Jordan Malone, Supreme Court Justices for the 9th Judicial District of New York State. In researching for this piece I came across a headline from December 2019, ‘Senate approves Trump’s first black female judge nominee’, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis of Flint, MI. Hon. Stephanie Dawkins Davis was the first African-American woman nominated to a federal judgeship since former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright was tapped by President Barack Obama in 2015. Until Dawkins Davis, Trump had not nominated an African-American woman to the federal bench. Trump has nominated five black men as judicial nominees, yet only one has been confirmed.
The illustrious Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. has stated, “the lack of racial diversity on our nation’s courts threatens both the quality and legitimacy of judicial decision-making.” She argues and passionately advocates racial diversity among judges as a critical means of achieving cultural pluralism (pluralism is the view that there is no one correct logic, or alternatively, that there is more than one correct logic) in judicial decision-making. Most importantly, Ms. Ifill argues our diversity efforts should focus on ensuring judges, who can and are willing to represent the values and perspectives of minority communities, are represented on the bench rather than focusing exclusively on the race of a judicial aspirant.
Yet, when Attorney Jeh Johnson, the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, who leads the independent review of the New York State Court System’s efforts to combat institutional racism, sought feedback from local town and village court judges of color, there are not many African-Americans to seek out. Yes, in Westchester we have Hon. Helen M. Blackwood, Westchester County Court Judge, Hon. Arlene Gordon-Oliver, Westchester County Family Court Judge, Hon. Nichelle A. Johnson and Hon. Lyndon Williams, both Mount Vernon City Court Judges, Hon. Reginald J. Johnson, Peekskill City Court Judge and Hon. Jared R. Rice, New Rochelle City Court Judge, but former WBWPC member and the trailblazing Hon. Delores Scott Brathwaite, Greenburgh Town Court Justice is the only African-American justice in a ‘town’ or ‘village’ in our entire county, a county containing 19 towns and 20+ villages. The Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus, Inc. plans to work with the Westchester Black Bar Association to change this as judges have a more direct and irrevocable impact in the lives of many Americans, more so than local or even national legislators. We know this is particularly true for African Americans who are disproportionately involved with the judicial system.
As the need for diversity on the bench has become as compelling as the need for diversity in all branches of government, so goes the need for dismantling structural/ systemic racism. African Americans have struggled against racial oppression since the early colonial days. With each success (or failure), old control mechanisms were updated and new ones were created. These are traceable through our history from the kidnapping of our ancestors from Africa and slavery, to the stealing of indigenous land, to Jim Crow laws, to ghettoization in our cities, to the slow changes in our justice system and so on. Courts achieve structural impartiality when judicial decision-making includes a cross-section of perspectives and values from the community. With more and more justices of color and the continued work of our NYS legislature, Senate Leader/President, the Hon. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker, Hon. Carl E. Heastie, there’s a view beyond the judicial horizon in New York State.
Our country has been tested before and is being deeply tested now. We’ve gained so much, but have so far to go. Because of the exhaustive daily headlines, we wonder just how much more our country can take. Then I pause, I take a long beat and I think of all those who jumped ship and died on their own terms in the moment rather than sail to and build an unknown nation. I remember there are 800 memorials at the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice aka the National Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, AL. Many memorialized there were lynched because they had the audacity to walk into town to count jellybeans in a jar in hopes of gaining the right to vote. I think of all the unsung female heroes whose skin was bronze like mine and worked in the Women’s Suffrage movement. I think of our next Vice President, the US Senator from California, Hon. Kamala Harris and I know complacency is not an option now, there is just so much work to do.
So yes, because of an outrageous occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC our progression may seem stymied, but we must not lose hope. We can shed tears as we all have so much to grieve about, but we have so much more to do. We must be custodians of our past and our ancestors. We must be good custodians and “cause good trouble” (Thank you late US Congressman Hon. John Lewis). Remind all we know to complete the US census, https://2020census.gov/en.html AND we must VOTE. Not only must we vote, we must vote early and we must encourage the same of everyone we know and even those we don’t know.
In reverence of my tears, I will end with a quote from Chadwick Boseman about our country and the first African American US Supreme Court Justice, the late great Hon. Thurgood Marshall who was vital in ending legal segregation. Mr. Boseman portrayed him in his younger days in the 2017 biographical legal drama film, ‘Marshall’. Mr. Boseman stated…
“There’s the phrase of “making America great again.” But how did we make America great? Who did it? It was Thurgood Marshall who did it. It was Thurgood Marshall who made America live up to its constitution, to its dream. He pushed the envelope to make sure that we were equal.”
As I dry my tears, I implore everyone to please do your part to keeping pushing the envelope! The US Census deadline is September 30th and early voting begins on October 24th!