Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright
I am the descendant of generations of talented, smart, determined, strong black women and I am incredibly honored to be able to share just a little bit of their stories during Black History Month. My great grandmother, Kelsie Anderson, known to us as “Grampy” was just 15 years old when she lost both of her parents to the Spanish Flu pandemic. As the oldest child she took on the task of raising her 6 siblings, including the youngest sister who was only 2 years old. Grampy left school and mightily took on this challenge, eventually marrying and moving her family to Connecticut where she would own a home and earn a living as a seamstress. She would become a published author and writer of poetry Many years later in 1987, at the age of 84 (and the same year I graduated high school) she would earn an Associate’s Degree. Grampy was featured in news articles and praised for her incredible accomplishment but I don’t think I realized just how difficult this must have been and the magnitude of her achievement until I was much older. Grampy was and still is a great inspiration to our family. My grandmother, Bertha Waller, was another amazing woman. She was super smart and graduated from high school at the age of 16 and then married at 18. However, in those days her career options were limited so she worked in various places and roles, including as an elevator operator, before she was able to train in a nursing school at the age of 33 when she became a licensed nurse. She too would later go to college and earn an associate’s degree once her children were grown. Education was a strong theme in my family. My grandmother was very proud of her children and grandchildren’s accomplishments. When I graduated from undergrad with an engineering degree and went on to law school to become the first attorney in the family she was so very proud. Granny was an avid reader and loved to read the legal magazines and publications I would box up and send to her a few times a year. In our regular phone conversations, she would ask questions about different legal concepts and issues she had learned about from reading these materials. During a visit to NYC with my daughters, we stayed in a Central Park East high rise hotel with an elevator operator and I recalled that my grandmother had once worked in this role and related this to my daughters to their surprise. I reminded them that Granny’s sacrifices made it possible and how proud she would be. I feel certain that given the opportunity, she would have become a lawyer. Hailing from these incredible women who truly valued education and understood the difference it would make in their lives and the trajectory of the family, my mom, Kelsie Mattox, went to nursing school immediately following high school, and later earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees over many years while working full-time along with weekends and raising me and my sister as a divorced mom. My mom became an educator and administrator within nursing and would later be a director of a medical facility prior to her retirement. During this time she would still find time be active in her community through church and civic activities and remains actively involved now in retirement. This is just a snapshot of the inspiration and motivation from a few of the amazing women from whom I am descendant that has propelled me to push to greater heights and to accomplish all that they hoped would be possible. Knowing how hard each of these women worked and the many sacrifices they made to create opportunities and set examples for each of us is something that grounds me. I don’t think they could have known the impact this would have for generations to come in our family and is a strong reminder of our ability to impact change, one family at a time. The journey and sacrifices of women in my family and so many others made possible the significant and historic election of Madam Vice President Kamala Harris and for that I am grateful and excited for the glass ceiling that has been shattered!