Feb 07

Merriam-Webster defines a trailblazer as “one that blazes a trail to guide others”. Despite how much determination, drive, and resilience one has, we are all helped by the presence of trailblazers who have demonstrated what is possible. Trailblazers break down barriers, reveal possibilities, and challenge our perception of our limitations. Trailblazers are inspiring. To be “the first” takes resilience, community support, and grit.

If you are familiar, now is a great time to learn about historical trailblazer that have changed the legal landscape. Examples such as Macon Bolling Allen who was the first African-American lawyer to be licensed in Maine and in Massachusetts, as well as the first African-American member of the judiciary. Or Charlotte E. Ray, who in 1872 became the first female African-American lawyer in the United States. Or Jane Bolin who became the first African-American woman to serve as a judge in the United States in New York City’s Domestic Relations Court. Or Thurgood Marshall who in 1967 became the first African-American to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

Historical trailblazers remind us how far we’ve come as a society. Present day trailblazers remind us just how far we still need to go. In fact, every year that I have had the opportunity to attend the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association’s Annual Gala, I always come away struck with a sense of inspiration and sadness. Inspiration stirred up by the stories of triumph, determination, community support, and never-ending resilience. But at the same time a sense of sadness stirred up by the reality that in our present time there are still so many examples of new trailblazers. After all, the presence of a trailblazer demonstrates yet another area in life where inequality has endured year after year, decade after decade.

When focusing on how far we still need to go as a society, it can feel overwhelming. So, in case these tips might be as helpful to you as they are to me, here are some suggestions.

  • Learn about trailblazers: Become more familiar with the stories, the struggles, and the triumphs of trailblazers. Read biographies, watch documentaries, meet trailblazers in person.
  • Appreciate trailblazers: We all have trailblazers in our lives. When you learn about how someone has blazed a trail, express your appreciation for what they have done and how that has affected your life or career.
  • Be a trailblazer: Consider how you can blaze a trail that’s never been walked before. Think of barriers that you have faced, particularly those that others share, garner support from others in your community/group, and put your trailblazing boots on.
  • Recognize potential trailblazers: Be on the look at for those who may be in the position to be trailblazers, whether that be in society at large or in the microcosm of your workplace. Encourage those around you to break barriers, to achieve new heights, and offer your support.
  • Support trailblazers: Recognize the power that you possess and use it to empower others. Every trailblazer that has comes before us has been successful with the support of those around them. We can all be a part of that support system. Dare I say, it is our obligation to be a part of that support system.

To all the trailblazers out there, young and old, past, present and future; thank you.

 

Shawn Healy, PhD

 

 

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