Dear Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
I wanted you to know this is the mask I’m wearing on my first day of school next week as we return to the classroom for the first time since March when COVID took over the universe. Clearly, you don’t know me, but I wanted you to know just how much you’ve been on my mind, this last year especially, as you battle cancer, again, and probably the fear you would not be able to serve through this next Presidential Election. On August 10, 1993, when you were being appointed to the United States Supreme Court, I was packing up for my freshmen year at Connecticut College. You were 60, and I was 18, a first generation college student, who read an actual hard copied newspaper The Boston Globe and hung your picture over my dorm room single bed. I knew you were not the first female to serve honorably on the Supreme Court, but Sandra Day O’Connor stepped in when I was only in the first grade.
Today, I am 45, and you are 87; but before too much more time passed, I wanted to let you know just how much in awe I’ve been in you my entire adult life. Beyond your work on the Bench, you have been a powerful person, an empowering woman, whose actions and words have impacted the lives of thousands of humans both alike and unlike me. Beyond your barrier breaking for women every day of your career, you continue to battle discrimination in the workplace, in society, in homes across our country. On this 100th anniversary of our right to vote, I honor you and the choices you made in your history making it easier for me to make the choices I’ve made and the ones my son and daughter have yet to make in the years ahead. I can think of no better way to reflect on our history than by looking ahead at the future.
So, Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you should know I’ve also been trying to do justice by this letter for over a month know. Normally, after mulling around words in my head, when I sit down to write, they come easily. But not this summer, and this is frustrating for me, a writer-wife-teacher-mom. And here it is tomorrow, the 100th anniversary of our right to vote . I write a little here, and a little there, but to be honest– I’m really struggling with my ability to focus on anything in these weeks leading up to our return to school where I’ve been a teacher for over two decades. Women like you helped to pave the way so women like me grew up always believing we had a choice in both the lives we wanted to live and the careers we wanted to lead. This is what I dream for all kids too–regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, creed, sexual orientation– that they grow up believing the choices are real and possible.
Being a Supreme Court Justice has to be interesting each and every day; I can relate as I’m an high school English teacher. There might not actually be a cooler job on the planet than mine, and even if I’m a little bit nervous to head back in person to my classroom– I need to believe in a world which will respect science, keep people safe, and allow our children to return to school for magic happens there.
This month we also celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation asked me to write something which spoke to that topic, and, well of course, my thoughts returned to something you had said many years ago. And I suppose when I’m too tired or bitter or grumpy to believe I can fight for the things I care about, then and only then I’ll know that’s it’s time to retire from the classroom:
Channel your inner Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of my personal heroes and Supreme Court Justices, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” When a local business doesn’t have a ramp, ask the owner why. They may have a reason, but having to explain that reason to you, your husband and two small children causes them pause in their response. When a local person says something ignorant about people with disabilities, remember your role as a bystander is far more powerful than you think. Use your words. Thank you, ADA. Thank you to all who fought for that legislation and those who model every day how accessibility, inclusion, and innovation continue to make our world better.
So, in honoring you, our Anniversary of the Right to Vote, I wrote these words hoping they might lift your spirits if they were feeling low. However, you are RBG and likely never really feel low for there is too much work to be done still, too many days left to collaborate, bring about change, inspire future generations to come. I can’t imagine what your daily to do list looks like, but I imagine for you to accomplish so much you must have crazy to do lists. But maybe not. Maybe you could write back and let me know. Either way, please send some of your Supreme Court Justice Super Powers out to teachers of the world over these next few weeks as we will all need to channel the patience, insight, fortitude and compassion you have still in seemingly endless supply.
Thank you, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for your fearless years of role modeling on the bench, in our country and for future generations of young women and men everywhere.
Heather Ehrman Krill