It’s interesting how our lives intersect. In 1992, I worked for Harvard University in Harvard Yard. I worked at the Fogg and Widener, and when I wasn’t there, I spent all my time at the Harvard Science Lab. That was a perfect triangle of technology, art and books, and in the middle was Harvard Yard, where I would often hang out. It was adjacent to Harvard Square, where I also spent so many hours talking to my friends who were world-class thinkers from MIT. I didn’t realize then how fortunate I was to be in the midst of some of these people. In hindsight, of course, many of the lessons they tried teaching me make complete sense. Did I learn some of the lessons? Maybe. One never knows until one lives a little.
I digress. I knew of two powerful, caring and supportive Black women at the time, one a student and one a staff member. A dutiful woman who did an important, but often thankless job, and when Ketanji Brown Jackson said that a sister, I think it was an older woman, not necessarily a student, stopped her in Harvard Yard and told her to “Persevere”, I had a very good idea who it was, because she gave me and my friend similar encouragement. (There are details of the story too deep to get into in this pass, but she caught hell at Harvard, I know) I don’t know what history will remember of that time period, but what I can tell you, if was a very difficult time emotionally and psychological. We simply did not have the mental health support that we do today. May didn’t make it. I can’t begin to tell you what I witnessed in Harvard Yard, at the age of 21….seeing my first dead body in Harvard Square, a beautiful young woman on a bench in Harvard Square, dressed in her punk makeup, punk hair and outfit, in the cold morning air, the EMT arrived with the coroner’s van, he moved her head and I heard a sound: “How long has she been here.” As if she were sleeping. I called my father hysterical when I saw that. My Pop the WWII vet said: “First time you’ve seen a dead body, huh? It never gets easy.”
I also remember….my boss, the woman who I believe to be Persevere Woman, sending me out to help my friend Richard, who would later likewise succumb and die of hypothermia after drinking. To try to reason with Richard. I tried, I tried befriending him, I talked with him, but he was too far gone. Weeks after showing up at the Widener stewy drunk, he was found dead. It was a type of war then. Maybe my experiences and perceptions were outliers, but this is what I saw with my own eyes, time and time again. I have other stories I need to share, because now that I’m older, I see a pattern emerging, and for what it’s worth, I have to tell what I saw and experienced, maybe if only for the sake of history knowing.
If it is her, Perseverance Woman did an important but thankless job year-after-year, who endured mistreatment from fellow staff, students and the public alike, but who kept showing up for work and doing a good job. Who was always quick to encourage us to “Keep going”. So I’ll ask KBJ if I ever get to meet her, if my former boss is in fact, the perseverance woman.