Are you gritty? Do you persevere above all obstacles to reach your goal? Chances are, if you are heading to law school, the answer is yes. We are so full of grit, y’all! Grit (perseverance and passion) is a quality characteristic–and students of color, living in poverty have it by the boatload. Yet, we place too heavy a burden on students of color when we focus on grit as the sole reason of why they succeed. Because when we only focus on the individual, we take away the responsibility schools and other systems of power have to help our communities. And grit isn’t enough for students to overcome those barriers. It may work for some of us, but the idea that grit overcomes all hinders too many others. Focusing on grit, gives a pass to schools that put more funding in disciplinary measures than on social development. It ignores the school to prison pipeline problem. It dismisses the struggles that come with living in poverty. It creates a unfair standard that too many of our youth will fail to meet; leaving them behind, instead of creating solutions to help them succeed.
While it is good to recognize our ability to succeed and to overcome obstacles our focus has to be two-fold. We have to figure out ways to use our ability to succeed to reach our goals; all while we fight back against a system that was not built with us in mind.
What are our options?
One. Participate as an alumna. It’s tedious, I know. You want to get your degree and bounce. But think about the help you wish you had when you were a student and use your power as a graduate of the school to press for change. Your involvement can be as intensive or limited as you would like, but consider some form of participation. And really (here I am on my soapbox), I don’t have much patience for people that complain about PWIs, have the ability to be agents of change, and yet still do nothing but complain. Do you want things to be better for people coming behind you or do you just want us to know how bad you had it? Because we don’t have time for the latter. /steps off box.
Two. Mentor. Mentorship comes with heavy baggage. When I think of it, I still view a very traditional relationship and question whether I can give the time commitment necessary to be a good mentor. But, thankfully we live in 2017 with a variety of options! Mentoring can be long-distance, it can be minimal, it can be specific to a certain issue–basically it’s what and how you’re willing to help someone else. I see so many in this community, reaching out to other Hermanas in Law with suggestions, pointers, motivation, and help to get the rest of us through school/into jobs. Mentorship can be what you make of it, but if you have the ability to share your story of success with others, consider doing it!
Three. Pushback against the stereotype. Look, we didn’t get where we are through just dumb luck. We didn’t become attorneys because someone felt sorry for us. We worked hard. Hella hard, and most of us worked through really challenging, emotionally draining circumstances. I don’t want to take that away from you. Your story of perseverance is so important to our narrative as a community.
That being said, I do push back when other people try to prop me up by making the rest of my community look bad. “Nubia has so much grit/potential/ability, she overcame XYZ, why can’t others?” I don’t buy into bootstrapping and I won’t let others use my story to diminish others. And I certainly won’t abide by them using one individual’s success as away to ignore the HUGE SYSTEMIC RACIST problems we have in our educational system. So when people try to play the game of I/You/We-made-it-why-can’t-they? I quickly show them a seat and take time to enlighten them. Yes, I made it, but here’s all the reasons why my kinfolk struggle and why things need to change.
If this all sounds tiring, yeah it is. But until we’re not the only one in the room, held up as some special standard, then we have work to do–let’s keep putting that grit to good use!