By Victoria Willingham • July 30, 2020•Writers in Residence
In true 2020 fashion, the past few weeks have been marked by a monumental moment in history. Congressman John Lewis passed away, and the nation will never be the same. As I read and learn more about his life, I am both fascinated and empowered. Through all of the coverage, my thoughts have gone in many directions, but I’ve been most fixated on his concept of getting into “good trouble.” A trailblazer and civil rights icon, Congressman Lewis recognized that in order to create change, we must speak up and take action when we identify something unsettling. This ideology resonates with me on so many levels, and I thought it would be a good topic to elaborate on based on my last post.
A few weeks ago, I got the privilege to speak with a law student who recently finished her 1L year. She asked me several questions about law school and my early career experience. She further expressed how she really enjoyed the work in her current role, but the type of work she envisioned upon graduation was starkly different. In true candor, I “stepped on my soapbox” and advised her that her career did not have to look any particular way and that there is no rule that says she can not accomplish all of her professional goals throughout her journey. I further explained that there’s no rule stating that she can’t prefer the path she discovers over the path she thought she was going to travel. After several minutes, I “stepped off my soapbox,” and our conversation naturally shifted. Once our call ended, I realized that I managed not to answer a portion of one of her questions. She had asked how I manage to be an advocate in a role that does not explicitly involve social justice issues. After our conversation, recalling my desire to adequately answer her, I was left to ponder the topic.
Many aspects of legal training and mentorship perpetuate the notion that certain routes within the law are the only avenues to advocacy. I have taken it upon myself to debunk that mentality. Much like Congressman Lewis intentionally got into “good trouble” by strategically utilizing nonviolent tactics to defy social injustice, we as legal professionals can leverage our training to make an impact across multiple fields. Having earned the skills that grant us opportunities to interject ourselves into unique and often influential roles, we can use our platforms to systemically challenge the status quo.
In the tech specifically, we can work to ensure that pipeline programs are both welcomed and fostered universally across the industry. We can also examine the intricacies of product development and collaborate cross-functionally to ensure products lack bias, exhibit inclusivity, and are accessible. Additionally, we can take the initiative to mentor both internally and externally in efforts to create a support system for anyone who needs it. Being a change agent in these spaces often involves taking the road less traveled. Recognizing these journeys as necessary, however, are how we make progress that transcends industries and generations.
As I continue to contemplate and refine my roles as a professional and an individual, I encourage you to do the same. Once we implement our action items, we are sure to make an impact and demonstrate that one can thrive as an advocate no matter the path.
Photo of me on the 51st Anniversary of Blood Sunday during my reign as Miss Black Missouri US Ambassador 2016