Even if you’re not blazing new trails of justice as a lawyer, you can still prioritize taking time to support real life trailblazers and the work they do to improve the world for us all.
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.
Continue learning about trailblazers that changed the history of our legal landscape year-round, using Black History Month as an annual reflection point. 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. Then think about Anita Hill. Then countless others. Black history defines American history regardless of the time of year.
Trailblazers remind us how far we’ve come and 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.
To overcome racism, we all need to act in ways that support the work of trailblazers:
- 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.
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This post was updated from its original publication by Dr. Shawn Healy in 2018.