Baltimore City State's Attorney Marylin Mosby's Inspirational Speech
“I was taught that life lessons come in many forms - some will be very unexpected.“ Aliyah Johnson
Today, I was privileged to hear two of Baltimore’s most influential women speak in the same day. 14-year old, Aliyah Johnson, gave a remarkable closing speech at the Flourishing Blossoms Society for Girls, Inc.’s 3rd Annual Father-Daughter Ball. Just a few hours earlier, I attended a former students senior graduation at Coppin University, where the keynote speaker was none other than that brilliant, bold, and beautiful, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
A few months before she became a household name for her leadership in indicting the officers affiliated with the death of Freddie Gray, she was one of the very first honorees at the Blossom’s Royal-Tea – a celebration of powerful women in the community. She was sent a personal invitation from one of our 14-year-old Blossom Girls who admired her from afar. She had no idea who any of us were before arriving but by the end of the event, Mosby told my co-founder and I how proud she was of the work we were doing and never to hesitate to ask for any support from her office.
When I arrived at the Augusta Fells Savage senior graduation ceremony and saw Mrs. Mosby sitting on the stage in a classy, knee length, pearl dress and her signature Dominican-salon styled straight wrap, with the ends softly bumped to perfection, I was instantly overcome with anticipation. I knew she was going to deliver and that she did!
“…Success is not an option, it’s the standard. With all of the negativity that’s happening in our world today surrounding young people, we must take time out to celebrate the momentous occasions such as this where we honor those young folks who were self-motivated and self-disciplined enough to not only recognize the importance of a quality education but to actually put in the time, the sacrifice, and the commitment to obtain one.
“You see, empowering young people in our lives is so crucial in the process of our communities. When we look at our history, every great movement towards progress came from young people, unafraid to challenge the status quo in the pursuit of justice. Young people, in the words of Harriet Tubman, reach for the stars and change the world. Young people who acted within that exact moment. Young people who never let any time, situation, or circumstance define their destiny. Young people that channeled their pain into their passion and pursued their God given purpose... Not tomorrow but today, now, in this exact moment. You see, taking complete advantage of the awesome power of now, an ideology shaped by and taught by every prolific leader throughout our history.
“At 35 years of age, I am the youngest chief prosecutor of any major American city. So, I’d like to think I’m still young and not that far removed from you. But when I decided to run for Baltimore City states attorney, I embarked on a journey that was not easily rooted in abundance of external support. I sat down with any and every politician, business owner, community and clergy leader to ask for their guidance and support in my endeavor. To my dismay, an overwhelming majority of those discussions ended with optimism for my vision but skepticism in my ability to carry out my vision. Most of these skeptics went as far as to discourage me from running for this office in the first place. Whether their skepticism was rooted in love or in hatred, I was told over and over again that now was NOT my time. I was told that my dream was impossible, that I was too young, that I was too inexperienced, that I couldn’t raise enough money, that my decision to run would potentially destroy and interrupt, not only my career but also, my husband’s career. For me, as a young woman to run against an older male incumbent with powerful backers who had the ability of raising close to a million dollars, the skeptics wanted to know, how could I have the audacity?
“After thinking long and hard about the skeptics and the cynics, I thought about the audacity of those fearless leaders woven throughout our history, such as, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height, President Barack Obama, Congressman John Lewis, Congressman Elijah Cummings, all of whom had been unwavering in their pursuit of justice an equality. Having the audacity to actually believe in myself, I realize that I had to channel my confidence and deflect the negativity and ultimately decide that as a wife, a mother raising two little girls in the heart of West Baltimore, a woman of faith, a former prosecutor with 6 years of prosecutorial experience, and an 80% overall conviction rate – that I not only possessed the vision but the foresight to reform a criminal justice system. With this passion in mind, I ultimately had to decide that my desire to change the criminal justice system, a system that has historically and disproportionately affected so many communities of color far outweighing the force of any skepticism. Reflecting upon my faith and my life’s experiences I had to make a decision that I was going to pursue my purpose and leverage the awesome power of now and run for Baltimore City State’s Attorney but first I had to get pass the skeptics and the naysayers that tried to impose the self doubt, therefore, I had to channel my confidence, which is what you all are going to half to do. Much like the spirit of Booker T. Washington, when he proclaimed, ‘I have begun everything with the idea that I can succeed and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.’ Unbeknownst to the skeptics, the depth of my conviction and my passion was because of them. Looking at the pride of my community and the unparalled destructive impact of the criminal justice system, I had to decide that I would not pass my grandparents plight onto my children’s children. From slavery to Jim Crow to the industrial prison complex, I had to decide that enough was enough and that God had given me a purpose and wanting me to walk in that purpose. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?
She went on to discuss how no matter what, as human beings who diligently chase our dreams, we will always be tested. She recalled the chilling murder of her 17-year-old cousin who was killed when she was only 14. He was an honor student, not a “thug”. This traumatic event, in her words, defined her purpose. “I turned my pain into my passion.”, she said, as she continued to describe the reason why she fights for the justice of all, especially the Black youth of Baltimore.
She was very transparent as she described being waitlisted to every law school she applied to, as a result of her unsatisfactory performance well on the LSAT. She wanted each person in that auditorium, young or old, to understand that one should never let their shortcomings steer them away from their goals. She continued to pursue her dream by personally making connections with the schools of her choice so that should could assure the schools that her LSAT scores were not indicative of her potential. She was determined not to allow her “circumstance define her destiny.” Hearing and watching her speak today was a testament to the fact that being “certified” has less to do with how well you can pass a test than it has to do with how much tenacity and determination you have to succeed.
“I was told”, she continued, “that it was hopeless and that this was a fruitless effort. I was told that not to do it and to just try again next time but when your faith and your purpose is REAL, you know when you must walk in God’s purpose for your life. And let me just say, I did not listen to the naysayers and I got into my first choice law school.
“I’m giving you my testimony because it’s real. Ya’ gonna’ have challenges in ya’ life.” The authenticity of her Boston accent came to life, as she got even more genuine with us. “I did not initially pass the BAR Exam, never allowing that situation or circumstance to define my destiny, I became relentless in my pursuit to become what God had put in my midst. I was determined to prevail and become a prosecutor. Its those memories that force me to never give up, never take no as a last answer, and never allow my purpose to be subdued or defined by another person’s vision of me. Today I stand as benefactor of our ancestors who have paved the way…
“In the words of Booker T. Washington, ‘Success should is to be measured, not by the position that one has reached in life, but by the obstacles which he or she has overcome.’ All to often in our communities when we feel that we have obtained the level of success, we want people to see where we are and not how we got to where we are - but we must continue to pass our testimonies, our trials, tests, and journeys on to the generations coming behind us. We must constantly remind ourselves that our success is the byproduct of the fruits of someone else’s labor. True individual success is judged on not what we have obtained but rather what we have done to put others in a position to obtain greater.”
“Ladies, our time is now, we must step up and get pass our self-doubt and be the example for the young women coming behind us, letting our young sisters know that despite what they see on reality TV or in the music videos, respect for their bodies and their mind is what makes them beautiful. We must instill in our young women that they can succeed at anything they put their minds to despite what the critics might say, even the haters. Believe me, I know.
“Fellas, we must be sure that you, as young men, know that you are not thugs and that you guys are so much more than what the media portrays. You are not a statistic. Gentlemen, you are kings and more powerful united than divided. Our communities, our families, our children, we need you now more than ever.
“In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, we must instill in our young people, ‘It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’
“Ladies and gentlemen, we do not know defeat but turn on the news, the struggle remains, the struggle continues. We have work to do. The time is now. If not now, then when? If not us, then who? If not now, then when? … Always remember to exhibit your strength and never let anything or anyone stop you. Adversity will come. Cease every moment to turn that fear and that anxiety, that anger… turn that pain into your passion and pursue your God-given purpose.”