Until about age 10, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I alternated between a doctor and a lawyer. I suppose that’s because two of my role models were my pediatrician Pamela Black, and my immigration lawyer Gloria Goldman. These women were quite similar. They were both so tall and confident. Even at 6, I just knew they were incredibly intelligent. Dr. Black could ask me some random questions, poke and prod for a minute, then exactly determine what was wrong. It was like she was solving one of those 500 piece puzzles in her head but she didn’t even have the box to look at. And she made me feel better. Plus she got to work with kids, and I love babies. My parents also approved, so I figured that I should be a pediatrician. Decision made, life was good.
At my tiny, very diverse 200-student elementary school, no one questioned my desire to be a doctor or lawyer. I worked hard, picked up new material quickly, and adapted well. I was often awarded for academic excellence, and my peers recognized my ability. Junior high was a different story. I still excelled, but when it came time to pick a leader, rank our peers, and just be heard, I found myself being passed over. I eventually noticed that I wasn’t the only one who had to work twice as hard to be seen as an equal and those who were rewarded for being average all looked alike. It was at that time that I was also introduced to racial stereotypes and sexist jokes that no twelve-year-old could fully understand, let alone create.
The word “unfair” rang in my head all throughout my middle school years. It wasn’t until high school that I began making the connections between seemingly isolated instances of unfairness I faced, those suffered by other individuals, and the larger power structures that facilitated the unreasonableness. I finally saw these forces for what they were: injustice. It’s all I could think about. Sure, I could be a doctor and help people stay alive, but what about after that? How could I help people lead a life worth living?
I decided to study law because I realized that I couldn’t take the prejudice from everyone’s heart. That’s fine. We live in the United States, and people have a right to think and feel however they please. What is not fine is for those thoughts and feelings to transfer into action or inaction that oppress other people. I am so thankful to be in the United States, and I love this country. It’s the only home I’ve ever known, and it’s ideals of liberty and justice for all are incredible. I will be a lawyer because my calling in life is helping us realize that dream.
We are proud to announce Oumou Jeanne Keita is one of the current DiversityJobs Scholarship finalists. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘heart’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.