I LOVE being a girl, I LOVE being African-American, and I will LOVE being a lawyer

As an African-American woman I feel as if I have a somewhat different perspective on being a woman entering the legal profession. I not only have to overcome gender stereotypes but racial stereotypes as well. As a young woman, watching my mother, a successful woman in the business world, I remember countless times when I overheard her telling my father about the sexist encounters she had with co-workers and clients. Late at night when I was up finishing my homework in my room I could hear her telling my father about the customer that was hesitant about her working on their project or her ability to meet a deadline because she was not only a woman, but a black woman. She would talk about how she always rose to the challenge, set aside any doubts and then shocked the customer when she produced an impeccable final product. My parents would always have a good laugh about how quickly the customer back tracked on previous concerns, eventually praising her for a job well done and promising her additional work. I used to smile to myself and then get back to my work, determined to be just like her. But, there were also those other nights; the nights when I could hear the hurt and anger in her voice. I can still remember her saying, "Why do I have to fight? Why am I always proving that I am as good as or better?" On these nights I went to bed concerned, praying for my mother and the people that did not realize how amazing she really was.

As I grew older she used to tell me both of these stories, the ones that made her laugh and the ones that made her sad. She would tell me that I would have to work 10 times harder and be 10 times better just to prove that I was equal to my male counterpart. I did not really understand what she was saying until I began attending a private high school in seventh grade. And, that is where I began to really understand the struggle that would face me in life. I noticed that the boys at our school received preferential treatment in a variety of situations. Many of my classmates were wealthy and while this did play a part in some of that preferential treatment, I realized that sexism was the major factor behind this favoritism, particularly in sports. Even though for the majority of my tenure the boys sports teams were not particularly successful, when the boys won football games or basketball games, the kitchen staff prepared a special lunch and at the end of each season the boys got a banquet. None of those things were given to the girl's basketball team or their award winning field hockey team. The boy's basketball team received new warm-ups and uniforms every year, the girl's basketball team received new warm-ups and uniforms twice during my entire high school career. Experiences such as this solidified in my mind the advice my mother had given me--I will have to work 10 times harder and be 10 times better, but even then that might not be enough.

These experiences did not stop in high school, they continued in college--the political science teacher that would make sexist jokes in class and then openly admit how he favored males over females; the male classmate that believed a woman's job was to cook and clean; the complete ignorance of a world outside their own. I am learning that these are the situations that I will encounter and the only thing for me to do is rise above them. I am proud of who I am! I LOVE being a girl and I LOVE being an African-American girl. I know that I will be successful and I know that I can rise to any challenge that comes my way. All I have to do is continue to be who I am and continue to work hard. I have received a variety of advice from women in the legal field about what I should wear and how I should act. Some say I should wear pants suits and avoid skirt suits because pants suits give the appearance of strength and power, and that's what male clients want to see. Others have told me that I need to watch more ESPN because I will need to be able to "talk sports with the boys." But I love to wear skirts, I wear them every day rain or shine, winter or spring, and I will not give that up. I do enjoy some sports, particularly baseball and football, but I know there are other ways to relate to my male co-workers. Changing who I am is not the way to approach my career choice, besides I cannot change my race or gender. Instead, I will approach this experience as I have various others in my life. I will work 10 times harder and be 10 times better, earning the respect of my clients, co-workers, and supervisors, just as my mother did.

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