It’s a powerful word.
Viola Davis had a historic win at the Emmys this week, being the first African American actress to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for the show “How to Get Away with Murder. The show is written by Shonda Rhimes, an African American writer. It is always uplifting to see a talented woman being acknowledged — breaking through gender, color and stereotype barriers, and attaining what she has rightfully earned.
In her speech, she discussed the importance of opportunity.
Without opportunity, one never gets the chance to succeed.
People often ask why do I write, why do I get so involved in causes, what drives me.
I was a beneficiary of those who sacrificed before me. Those women who paid a high price, so that I can have the opportunities I have today.
It’s great. There is no reason that I can’t relax, while enjoying the fruits of their labor.
But the ultimate thank you to those women who came before me, those trailblazers, is to create opportunities for the next generation.
At the last National Black Prosecutors Association conference, a young prosecutor came up to me and told me “I interviewed with you several years ago. Although I did not accept an offer with your office, opting to stay closer to home, you showed me being a prosecutor was possible”.
This is why I do what I do. We must show and empower.
The Miami Herald ran a story on Gwen S. Cherry, who, because of her strength, determination and sacrifice, gave African American women lawyers like me the opportunity to succeed. I have previously acknowledged her on my blog (see the story here
), but read this powerful Herald piece here
. I am proud to continue to serve as the Vice President of the organization that bears her name, the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association.
When you get an opportunity, seize it with both hands, then drive a truck through it. That way you leave the path clear for others to follow. Not only must you take, but you must always be mindful of who is following you.
Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry
Born in Miami, Florida in 1923, Gwen Sawyer Cherry was a trailblazer like no other. She earned three degrees between 1946 and 1965, while mothering two children. Her bachelor’s degree and law degree were from Florida A&M University; she also earned a master’s degree in science from New York University and studied at three other out-of-state universities. She later returned to FAMU to be a law professor.
Upon her graduation from law school, Ms. Cherry became Miami-Dade County’s first African American female attorney.
After careers as a teacher and a lawyer, Ms. Cherry was elected to the Florida House in 1970. Ms. Cherry was the first African-American woman elected to the Florida Legislature. While in office, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, chaired the state’s committee for International Woman’s Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas. Additionally, Ms. Cherry chaired the Minority Affairs Committee for the Democratic National Convention and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972 while serving as legal counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s Miami chapter.
Tragically, Ms. Cherry died in a Tallahassee car accident in 1979. In his eulogy, then Florida Governor Graham called Gwen Cherry ‘a champion for the rights of all people and a voice of reason and concern.’
At FAMU, a lecture hall was dedicated to Ms. Cherry for all of her hard work and dedication. There is a park in Miami that bears her name, as a testament to her work to benefit the youth.
In 2005, what was previously known as the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Dade County chapter was renamed Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in her honor.
I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for this organization.
Gwen S. Cherry, I thank you for being one of the ORIGINAL Legal Divas!!