The following program was produced by
the United States Courts. I think it was pretty extraordinary for
me to have this kind of opportunity. To go from knowing no lawyers and then to
end up being a judge on the US Court of Appeals. I grew up in Detroit.
My parents strongly believed in education. I feel very blessed that both
of them were able to go to historically black colleges and graduate. My mother
wanted to be a teacher, but blacks could not get a contract in the public schools.
So she taught for 12 years in a school for delinquent children. My dad
had a degree in psychology and political science. He couldn’t find a job in
psychology and so he drove a bus for 20 years. I said Daddy, how could you
stand that? You had a college degree and you were driving a bus. And he said, I did
what I had to do. I wanted to make it better for you
and your sisters, and no one could take my education away from me.
And so my parents were really my inspiration. I wanted to be a teacher.
I started teaching in the elementary schools in the Detroit Public Schools. I
loved being a teacher. I’m still a teacher at heart, but realized that I
might be able to do more if I became a lawyer. I didn’t know anything about law
school and a friend of mine said he was going and so I decided that I would go
to. I didn’t know you had to take a test to get into law school I took the test.
Fortunately I did well, and Notre Dame called and said they had a spot. In law
school I always wanted to be a trial lawyer. That passion I had for trial law
continued, and ultimately I started working for a judge on the 7th Circuit
Court of Appeals which is the court I sit on now. As a woman, and black, there
were people that wondered whether I was capable of doing the job. And I could see
sometimes that skepticism in their eyes, but I knew what my abilities were. So
I just worked very hard. You have to just know that there are people out there
that are going to be racist, that are going to be sexist, and you have to learn
how to deal with it. And to me the way to deal with it is to
strive for excellence. “The question here is whether the trial court made a
mistake.” I did not get here on the bench on my
own. No, I stood on the shoulders of my parents. I stood on the shoulders of
people like Thurgood Marshall and Connie Motley and the judge who hired me. It
really does boil down to hard work and determination. If you have the willpower
and the strength, and you believe in yourself, and believe you can achieve; I believe we can realize our dreams.