By Ms. JD Editor • August 20, 2021•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
“Don’t aim to break the glass ceiling; aim to shatter it.”
- Matshona Dhliwayo
Alana, I am so proud of you. Right now, you are sitting as the co-pilot in your grandfather’s plane with the belief that you can do or be anything. You are unapologetically yourself. You aren't afraid to walk into any room or face any challenge against all odds. You don’t let anyone define who you are or what you are supposed to be. You are the type of girl to join the tee-ball team and stay in the outfield picking flowers because that’s what you want to do. People or institutions do not define you; you define you.
You are unstoppable. You are not just ready to face the world; you are prepared to change it. I am writing this letter because I must tell you something. What I am about to say to you is not meant to scare you, deter you, or stop you from becoming the person you are meant to be. But to prepare you for the obstacles that you will inevitably face.
I hate to have to be the one to tell you this. But although you love the world, often you will find the same love that you so willingly give will not be given back to you. But before we get there, let’s focus on the good news. Soon you will decide you want to be a lawyer! That’s so exciting! [A picture containing person, outdoor, flag, colorful Description automatically generated]
You will tell people what you want to do, and criticism and doubt will often fill their responses. People may question if you’re capable. But you will push through anyway. Here is where you will first experience some significant struggles. Listen, pursuing this dream won’t be easy. You are traveling a path that many people around you have not traveled before. You will make a lot of mistakes. You will look back and wish there were so many things that you could have and would have done differently only if you had just known better. But I want you to know something. You will meet your goal!
You will get to law school, become an attorney, and guess what? You won’t just graduate; you will graduate with honors and become a member of some of the most “prestigious” groups and organizations the school has to offer. The world will also present you with job opportunities that will challenge you, but you will have so much potential to grow!
Now, this is where things get complicated. As you move forward in school and in the career you always dreamed of, you will begin to walk in more and more rooms where no one looks like you. Brace yourself. Like I said earlier, I hate to be the one to tell you this. However, my promise is that I will always support you, and I will always be honest with you. Many spaces that you enter will not be designed for you. Unfortunately, you will find that although you worked so hard to reach this point, you will often only be tolerated but never really celebrated.
Sometimes you will sit in rooms where your voice will be invalidated unless co-signed by a man from a different community than your own. You will notice that your work product created under an anonymous title will get accolades, while similar work created with your name attached to it never seems “good enough.” You will be in a position where a co-worker approaches you to ask, “hey. I feel like your work gets critiqued differently than mine.” And your reply will be a slight smile with the response, “that’s just how it is.”
I want you to know as you chase your dream, unfortunately, you will face some heartbreaking realities about the career you’ve chosen. As of 2019, the year before you walk across the stage as Alana R. Glover, JD, the nationwide law school population will only consist of 12.7% Hispanic, 7.8% Black, 6.3% Asian, and only 4% of people identifying as biracial. In 2020 when you prepare to sit for the bar exam, Black people will make up 13.4% of the population in the United States. Still, only 5% of all lawyers will identify as Black. The 5% statistic is the same percentage that will exist for over a decade. I wish I could tell you that the world has become a place where I no longer have to say “you must work twice as hard, to get half” of what others, similarly situated, have. But sadly, that is not the case. You will soon realize that the dream you had to change the circumstances for your family and community has a “glass ceiling.” The glass ceiling you will reach is “an intangible barrier . . . that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper-level positions.” You happen to be both.
No matter what you do or the path you take, you will encounter the realities of these disheartening facts one day. As much as I wish I could change the circumstances for you or protect you from them, I cannot. But what I can do is prepare you for what’s to come. I want you to know that you are amazing. You will do great things, and as a result one day you will inevitably hit that “intangible barrier.” However, when that day comes, I want you to remember that you did not come this far to allow that glass ceiling to stop you. You came to shatter it.
*This letter is dedicated to Ralph E. Meadows, my grandfather, who passed away on July 8, 2021, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease and Covid-19. The one who told me I could do and be anything and the light of my life.
Gabriel Kuris, What Underrepresented Law School Applicants Should Know, U.S. News (June 8, 2020) https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/law-admissions-lowdown/articles/what-underrepresented-law-school-applicants-should-know.
ABA Profile of the Legal Profession 2020, ABA, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/news/2020/07/potlp2020.pdf (last visited Aug. 16, 2021).