George Floyd’s murder has sparked international protests against police brutality and a national conversation about doing more to address America’s history of racial injustice. And the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted many of these concerns, from the higher incidence of Covid-19 cases and the lack of access to healthcare in the black community to the racial wage disparities and higher rate of unemployment. It might be hard to see the positive in these incredible struggles, but this episode of Here’s Something Good aims to highlight just that. Judge Ann Claire Williams comes on the podcast to speak about her parents’ lives dealing with the limited opportunities for black people, how she’s used her hard-earned position to further the cause of justice, and what she sees as everyone’s task in building a better future.
Judge Williams’ parents both had college degrees, but though her mother wanted to be a teacher, she couldn’t get hired; she worked in a juvenile home. Her father, who had a degree in political science and psychology, couldn’t get a job in his field, either; he drove a bus for twenty years instead. She remembers that when he finally applied for a supervisor position after his lengthy tenure as a driver, his white boss didn’t think he could do the job, despite his education and the fact that he had served as a staff sergeant in World War II. None of that counted; it was his skin color that decided it. He left that job to get another degree so he could teach at a university. Judge Williams says she asked her father how he could do it – how he could drive a bus for twenty years “knowing that he was capable of other things.” Her father told her, “I did what I had to do” to make more opportunities for her and her sisters.
His sacrifice paid off; Judge Williams began her career teaching in inner-city schools in Detroit, got her law degree, and was appointed to the U.S. District Court by Ronald Reagan in 1985. She was the first black person to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, a court that sits just underneath the Supreme Court. And she’s used her position to help others up the ladder with programs like Just the Beginning. “The whole issue of racial understanding is something that has to be dealt with very directly,” she says. “It only takes one person to really begin a movement and to help advance change. One person can make a difference” by “building bridges, one human being to another.” Hear more of Judge Williams’ inspiring words and story on this episode of Here’s Something Good.
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