I was among hundreds of women who all had Anita Hill stories that they proudly told to everyone within earshot.
Some people said that Hill gave a voice to hundreds, if not thousands, of victims. More spoke of her quiet elegance and strong determination against unforeseeable odds. The stories kept coming and I felt blessed to be among the Anita Hill believers. I did not have an Anita Hill story; I do now.
Every woman there shared a bond. They were there for one reason, to celebrate Anita Hill and her courage 20 years after the fact. I was amazed. There was something so electric in the atmosphere when she walked into the room. She came without fanfare and without an entourage. At that moment, I knew that I was in the presence of greatness. I held my breath as she took the podium.
With elegance, grace, humility and power, she thanked us. Anita Hill thanked us. The woman who held her composure during grueling testimony at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the woman who dared talk about sexual harassment aloud thanked us. She thanked us for keeping the conversation going 20 years￼later. Not just the sexual harassment conversation, but also the discussion of gender equality and racial equality.
Part of me was proud of that. The other part of me wanted to know why we still are having the conversation. Shouldn’t we be beyond that? Shouldn’t we be focusing on something else? Why is it OK that women in this state make 78 cents of every dollar a man makes? Those are only the white women. African-American, Latino and Asian women make less. Why aren’t we doing more to show the value of women’s worth? Why does our worth need validating?
Another part of me asked a more personal question: What am I doing to help the cause? Or am I helping? Hill said that role models do matter. Hers was Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African-American woman to hold a Cabinet position, serve as an ambassador and head a law school. Am I role model? Are people getting inspiration, guidance and encouragement from me? How does one become a role model? Is there a special training class? Do you have to get certified every few years?
Seriously, I do not think we get to choose whether we become role models. I think, like Hill, we get thrust into situations where people are watching and then they decide if our behavior is worthy of being modeled. There is no time for rehearsals.
Anita Hill could not have had any idea what impact the outcome of those hearings would have on her life. I doubt she went in imagining that she would become the voice of disenfranchised people everywhere, especially since testifying at the confirmation hearings was not something she chose to do. She was forced into it and afterward her job was in jeopardy.
Despite this, she continued moving forward while holding her head high, all while knowing that many people did not believe her. She also received countless emails and letters thanking her for telling her story and for not bowing to the pressure to recant. She is a role model extraordinaire.
I was fortunate to be able to ask Hill about her proudest accomplishment. I was curious about how she viewed her own life. She paused and said that she lives in the present, and right now, professionally, her proudest accomplishment is the completion of her latest book, “Reimaging Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home.”
Personally, her proudest accomplishment was the tribute to her mother, who would have been 100 this year. Her tribute was to celebrate what a wonderful life and opportunities her mother gave her. Again, role models do matter. Thank you, Anita Hill, for being one of mine.
Guest columnist Doretha Walker is pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy and administration and lives in Mount Pleasant.