Cheers to Ketanji Brown Jackson, who broke through for me and our ancestors

by Mará Rose Williams

The text and photo came just moments before Thursday’s Senate vote that would confirm the first Black woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A photo of an unopened bottle of Black Girl Magic champagne next to a crystal-stemmed wine glass accompanied by the words “Getting ready for history to be made! KBJ let’s go!”

It came from my sister, a former New York prosecutor and Nassau County deputy county executive, now retired. She and I, like so many Black women, had been waiting for a moment like this all our lives, and darn if we weren’t going to celebrate it somehow.

Even as professional Black women who had ascended — as expected by our parents — to comfortable places in our respective careers, we watched, like wide-eyed little girls, every moment of her confirmation hearings.

We sent text messages back and forth repeating her words, making mention of those facial expressions that we read all too well, loving on her hair, laughing at the way she bested, with sheer grace, dignity and knowledge, her Republican detractors who repeatedly tried and failed to block her destiny.

And we applauded Sen. Cory Booker“s fervent recitation: “You are a person so much more than your race and gender. … When I look at you it’s hard not to see my mom, not to see my cousins. I see my ancestors and yours,” he said. “You have earned this spot. You are worthy.”

Yeah, Booker nailed it. We, Black women especially, related to her. We rooted for her. Just as we rooted for all of us because, unfortunately, that’s the pressure of being the first anything, but even more so when you are a Black American.

I remember being the only Black woman news reporter in my first newsroom and later, for a few years, at The Star. I was the only Black woman in the room all three years I worked at The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut.

And so my sister and I, seeing our mother, a teacher with ideas about education that were way ahead of her time, our aunts, all smart, strong, college-educated women, and each other in Judge Jackson, praised her each day of the hearings by text and by phone — and sometimes well into the night.

I pushed my laptop aside Thursday afternoon and turned the television volume up until its sound filled the house for the length of the Senate vote. I counted every yes vote even though I was pretty sure what the outcome would be. And when the votes passed 51, the text and a photo came.

From my sister: a bubbly glass of golden champagne and the words: “She’s in. I’m in tears right now.”

And I texted her back: “Me too. Cheers, KBJ.”

Mará Rose Williams is a member of The Kansas City Star Editorial Board. She has written on all things education for The Star since 1998, including issues of inequity in education, teen suicide, universal pre-K, college costs and racism on university campuses.