“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” I have always loved the quote by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Through her study of women’s history, Ulrich came to understand that there have always been attempts by societal forces to stifle the voices, political power, economic advancements and overall contributions of women.
However, she saw that on the flip side were women who defied societal expectations by standing up for their rights and the rights of others. They endured great personal and professional risks, and demonstrated courage in the face of adversity. Great women and freedom fighters, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks have influenced the path that I have taken as a lawyer and advocate for civil rights and social justice, a former law professor, and now a candidate for political office.
Over the years, through personal experience I have learned the importance of demonstrating courage in the face of adversity. One of those life-changing moments happened to me the day following the shooting death of Jamar Clark at the hands of the Minneapolis police. I participated in a march that was led by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis with hundreds of people; my son, PJ, who was ten at the time, was with me.
The leaders of the march led us in the direction of I-94 freeway. Based upon my experience of participating in previous demonstrations and the significant cause for which we were protesting and marching, I was not afraid of marching onto the freeway. The moment of truth came for me after we were there. Protest organizers said that state troopers were on the way and that if we stayed, we were likely to be arrested.
Prior to that moment, I had never experienced an arrest and I did not know what to expect. Hundreds of people exited the freeway at that moment, but I decided to stay, along with about four dozen other people. (My son asked if he could stay and also be arrested. I said no, as I was concerned about his safety in the juvenile system.) The reason that I agreed to be arrested was the thought that Jamar Clark could have been my son. It was important for me to be willing to accept personal risk and responsibility and send a message to the justice system that it is time for things to change.
I learned that there are times when one can push for change outside of the system, and how at other times, one must be willing to go inside the system to shift the paradigm. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Nekima Levy-Pounds is a civil rights attorney; co-owner of Black Pearl, a consulting firm; and candidate for mayor of Minneapolis.