you want to be.”
They were patronizing me, that’s clear. But they would always say, “Sister (because my older brother called me “sister”) you’re going to be whatever you want to be.” Only one time, my mother showed her hand by mistake. In my second year at Howard, I was taking all these political science and economic courses—now, she’d been hearing this lawyer thing for years—and she kept saying, “No education courses?”
Then she wrote me a letter in my junior year—I have it to this day. She said, “Sister, listen, it’s fine, and I know you’re going to be a wonderful lawyer. But it would be helpful if you would take some education courses. Just take some education courses. You may not need to use them, but I may even be able to get you on in Norfolk.” Momma was teaching elementary school there and she knew the woman down at the school board, so she wrote, “I may be able to get you on with Mrs. So-and-so, but I can’t do anything for you if you don’t have the courses.” That was her way of letting me know to get real.
My sister and I have compared notes. Momma did the same thing to her. To please her, my sister took three education courses; I took two. Today, my sister is a judge.
If you let someone else set your standard, whether it’s physical appearance, academic achievement, or economic success, then you will never be content with who you are. You have to maintain an edge, to keep pushing. But your purpose should be to set your own standard, not to catch up to or beat out somebody else. To always be thinking, “I wish I had” or “I wish I was like so and so…” keeps us from looking at ourselves and appreciating who and what we are as individuals. You must have your own inner compass.
Once you can really value your individuality, you have all you need. That’s self-worth and self-esteem, and I really believe that once you have that, you can handle whatever comes. Particularly in your beginning teen years, it’s very hard to be an individual when you’re in a group. But that’s where it’s got to begin. You don’t have to go where everybody else goes. You don’t have to do what everybody else does. That’s the lesson of a lifetime.
I never heard my folks say, “Your brother’s doing this,” or “Your sister is doing that.” I was the middle child and they never did compare us. I don’t know whether that was by design, but the three of us were so different, and they deal with us as individuals. It makes a difference. I believe it helped a lot.
I don’t know if it was youth, or what, but we were a bit judgmental in our college days. I remember that very clearly. You have to be careful of that. I don’t judge people the way I used to, because I now realize that I’m not