No one disputes that it is risky to take a non-traditional career path, especially when pursuing a law degree. When you add reproductive justice issues into the equation, with all of the false assumptions that come from outside of the movement, the path becomes that much more challenging. In the closing plenary session of the LSRJ Leadership Institute this afternoon, Malika Saada Saar of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights boldly shared that going through law school on her alternative path challenged everything that she knew about herself.
As someone who never pictured herself in law school and finds herself continually bucking the recommended path for success on the road to a JD and beyond, it was reassuring for me to hear. Even this incredibly successful, powerful and inspiring woman had doubts about herself while in school. The truth is that the biggest favor a person who is passionate about human rights issues can do for herself is giver herself permission to trust in her ability to make decisions. Law Review and firm work do not have to be included. Or they can be. Good grades can open doors but so can volunteer work and hands-on experience. There are many options open to each of us and each of those options can play a significant role in the reproductive justice movement. Once we get ourselves through the doors of the law school, we can feel comfortable that we have gotten over the main hurdle that demands we fit into a certain mold. From there, the challenge becomes finding our purpose and our place and moving boldly forward.
The common denominator for anyone pursuing an alternative route is that it takes courage: Courage to look at the world differently; Courage to ask new questions; Courage to challenge assumptions; Courage to try new paths. One of the last pieces of advice Malika had for us was to “create your own and be fearless.” For those of us with the courage to branch out, the creativity that often comes with that courage will enable us to make the changes that are required. Let’s be honest: the world does not look like it should. Doing things the way they have always been done has not included everyone’s experiences and has relied on marginalized communities to carry the weight of society. We cannot work towards realizing reproductive justice for everyone to be able to choose to have children, to choose not to have children and to raise one’s children with dignity if we do not branch and choose one of the many paths less traveled. After all, as Robert Frost concluded in his most famous poem, that could “make all the difference.”