Being forward thinkers, our country’s founders were probably controversial for their time. They dared to embark on a social experiment that would yield a new form of government. A democracy designed for people—not special interests or corporations, not religious-based organizations, and not foreign countries. They envisioned a “more perfect union” in which the people would be the sole creators and stewards of not just their government but their own destinies.
Since then, the United States has been home to countless remarkable people who’ve had profound impacts on our country—some good, some not so much so. Similarly, organizations have been formed whose contributions to society have helped move us forward, or not. Even places have affected our lives positively or negatively. I hope to spotlight some of those people, organizations, and places—to give credit where credit is due, good or bad.
I begin here with the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
I had the good fortune to meet Justice Ginsberg while she was serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—before she was nominated to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton. She was giving a presentation at a week-long training session I was attending. The program about the federal government featured many exceptional leaders, including South African President Nelson Mandela and Representative John Lewis. As you might imagine, the experience was life-changing.
Our class was fairly small, fewer than 100 people, so we were able to have an intimate glimpse into Ginsberg’s time on the bench and her beliefs. What struck me most was not her diminutive, yet strong, presence or her measured way of speaking and conveying her thoughts. What struck me was something she carries with her every day—her pocket Constitution. She told us how important the document is to her and how all her judicial decisions are based upon it. She said she referred to the small book frequently, and that was evidenced by how worn with use it was.
As the granddaughter of immigrants who came to this country for freedom and opportunity, that moment left an indelible mark on me. It led me to run for elective office and serve for years at both local and county levels of government. Inspired by her own life story, I returned to college for additional education. I served as a party official and led nonprofit organizations to stand up for the rights of others.
Instead of being hastily shepherded out after the class, we were given the time to speak one-on-one with Ginsburg. I shook her hand and thanked her for protecting the rights of others. Little did I know then that I was meeting a future Supreme Court Justice who, to this day, fights tirelessly for what is right and just.
I wish I had a photo of my encounter with this great woman. But cell phones and “selfies” didn’t exist yet, and our cameras were checked at security. Still, even without a visual memento, Ginsberg’s words, her work, and her life will be a positive influence on me for years to come.