Wednesday, May 15, 2024

“Use your voice… unapologetically.”

 Guest Post by Vanessa Johannes

That was the message conveyed by the Honorable Nancy G. Abudu, who was appointed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2023, at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Gala on May 11, 2024 at the Intercontinental Hotel.  For those who haven’t attended this gala before, it is a MUST DO affair in South Florida!  The who’s who of the community are in attendance, and dressed to the nines with their dancing shoes on (this year, there was a live Calypso band and Bahamian drummers).  Politicians, such as Mayor Suarez, lawyers, and business leaders attend this star-studded affair, which awards several law school students with scholarships and then honors outstanding lawyers and companies who are committed to justice, diversity and leadership in our community.   

This year’s honorees were Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (in her signature large, glittery cowgirl hat), UPPAC, the Lotus House Women’s Shelter, and Judge Abudu, who gave the keynote speech.  Judge Abudu’s speech was a candid one – she spoke about the hardships of being “a first” in a particular space (she is the first Black woman on the Eleventh Circuit).  “How do you conform to an institution not designed for you … an institution that historically has not reflected or served you … how do you maintain your own identity, while balancing assimilation to this role and institution … how do you lead with joy when pain is inevitable for so many who look like you but are not afforded the same opportunities?”   

These were some of the questions posed by a deeply intellectual and reflective judge that has the weight of much on her shoulders.  Ironically, in answering some of these questions for herself, she was inspired by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a jurist who, as Judge Abudu concedes, usually does not share her legal philosophy and positions.  

 Despite their opposite views, though, both have had to navigate being lone standers in their respective spaces and Justice Thomas reminds Judge Abudu of “what it looks like to be unapologetic.” Even when the masses are not with him, “his voice is still his voice.”  He is not afraid to share his philosophical views on interpreting the law and that teaches her to do the same.  Judge Abudu’s words hit home for so many who are navigating truth to power as “firsts” or “outsiders,” balancing inclusion, respect, imposter syndrome, and, candidly, where they fit in.  Importantly, her perspective and alignment with Justice Thomas reminded the room that even during these deeply polarizing times, we must all sometimes take a step back and see things from another’s perspective – even if that person is someone we don’t care to trade shoes with.   

Maybe especially if that is a person we don’t want to trade shoes with.  It was a timely message for a group galvanized to continue moving the arch towards justice and working for a more inclusive and diverse world.


Anonymous said...

Come through, Judge Abudu!

Anonymous said...

what, no review of yesterday's Jews that made America great.or " The Gideon Bible tells me we were there before they were"?

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read her trailblazing opinions in the 11th:

Yes, Brady violation, it was bad. Harmless error. Affirmed.

Yes, the cop shot an unarmed 5 year old holding a water pistol with an orange tip...but the law is not currently settled that he would know it is unacceptable. Immunity granted.

No, trial judge should not have allowed in as 404(b), in this medicare fraud case, that the defendant was previously acquitted of child abuse...but...harmless error...affirmed.

The prosecutor was wrong to call the defendant an animal who would kill the jurors children if acquitted...but there was some evidence of guilt. Harmless error. Affirmed.

Will be so refreshing to see the great perspectives this "first" jurist brings to the bench.

Robert Kuntz said...

My first job as a journalist was with The American Israelite, a weekly newspaper founded in 1854 by Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of American Reform Judaism. (It is still published today.) It was perhaps an odd gig for a lapsed Roman Catholic, but newspaper jobs were scarce when I graduated college.

I wrote a lot of stories about club meetings, and new rabbis, and graduations. I wrote lots of obituaries. But one upside of the job was that, if you were Jewish and prominent in any way at all, and you got within about 100 miles of Cincinnati, I was likely to get an interview. (My favorite ever was with Isaac Bashevis Singer.) So when Shimon Peres was in town for some events, I was there, and I got to talk with him. I think he was Prime Minister then, or maybe about to become PM. After a speech he gave to the AJC or Hadassah or some other large group, he sat with me for a bit. He asked me about myself and made note of the fact that this was an odd gig for a lapsed Roman Catholic. He asked if before the job I’d known many Jews. I said I had, as my first paid non-summer job had been teaching swimming at the JCC. He said that was nice. He asked if I’d ever been to Israel. I said I hadn’t. He said I ought to go.

Then he asked me: “Do you know what is Israel is?” I mumbled some answer. Then, as near as I can remember more than 40 years later, he said this:

“If there had been an Israel in 1943, and if the entire Israeli air force consisted of a single rickety biplane, then an Israeli pilot would have died in that plane, bombing the railroad tracks to Auschwitz. That’s what Israel is, young man. Israel is the end of Jewish powerlessness.”

The anonymous commentor at 11:26 evidently attended the Jewish American Heritage Month event he mocks. (Judge Altman did, in fact, mention the Bibles placed by the Gideons.) But two things are clear: First, he paid no real attention. No impression was made, despite all he heard, most likely because his prejudice and hatred are impervious to the suffering of those he hates. But second--especially given that his comment was anonymous--it's clear that he understands EXACTLY Peres’ definition of Israel, he agrees with it, and the idea of an end Jewish powerlessness is displeasing to him.

Anonymous said...

Y’all this post was about Nancy Abudu, who is an excellent addition to the bench. Not for kvetching over yesterday’s panel or to attack fellow commenters.

David Oscar Markus said...

4:52 -- I'm glad Robert Kuntz posted. It was important to respond to that comment. And there isn't yet a post about the Jewish Heritage event... that's coming. In the meantime, this was the only place to comment and I wanted to keep them together.

Anonymous said...

I think it is great that Israel gives its citizens power….the problem is what the government is currently doing with it.

s/ A Proud Jew

Anonymous said...

My goodness. How wrongheaded, Mr. Kuntz. I am not 11:26. Fundamental disagreement with the wisdom of creating a Jewish state in a densely populated place with thousands of years of third party heritage does not make you a genocidal Nazi villain. Impatience with biblical claims (might as well cite the Iliad), does not make you antisemitic. Get a grip sir.

Anonymous said...

Robert - I always enjoy your commentary and insight. And love your prior life as a journalist and your stories therefrom.

Many in addition to Shimon Peres have articulated the parable you recount, about Israel. Not all reduce this complicated issue to a singular, emotional flashpoint (6:03 pm hits one of the nails on the head in that regard.) Lily Greenberg Call's resignation as a special assistant to the chief of staff in the interior department of the Biden administration, is noteworthy.

"Call had worked for the presidential campaigns of both Biden and Kamala Harris, and was a longtime activist and advocate for Israel in Washington and elsewhere before joining the government.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Call pointed to comments by Biden, including at a White House Hanukkah event where he said “Were there no Israel, there wouldn’t be a Jew in the world who was safe” and at an event at Washington’s Holocaust Memorial last week in which he said the 7 October Hamas-led attacks that triggered the war were driven by an “ancient desire to wipe out the Jewish people”.

He is making Jews the face of the American war machine. And that is so deeply wrong,” she said, noting that ancestors of hers were killed by “state-sponsored violence”.

I think the president has to know that there are people in his administration who think this is disastrous,” Call said of the war overall and US support for it. “Not just for Palestinians, for Israelis, for Jews, for Americans, for his election prospects.”

Anonymous said...

Good use of Yiddish to get your point across!