Barbara Jordan was one of my professors at the LBJ School at the University of Texas. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate and the first southern black female elected to the US House of Representatives, where she served on the House Judiciary Committee.
Barbara Jordan was a commanding presence.
She filled any room she entered. She chose each word thoughtfully, offering insight and wisdom. She was an early role model for me, and I felt fortunate to spend time with her both inside and outside the classroom. I was both terrified and in awe of her, which I think she found quite amusing. I’ll share one extremely embarrassing story. On one occasion, she asked me take her to the restroom, which required maneuvering her wheelchair into narrow stalls — this was in the 1980’s before ADA-compliant standards. Horror upon horrors, I wedged her in the restroom and had to get help to free her. I was mortified. She just shook her head, and said, “Oh, Beth, Beth, Beck…” which only works if you can hear the authoritative enunciation with which she spoke. She actually used my name as a phrase quite often. I believe I was comic diversion for her. Thankfully, she was willing to put up with my knack for making a mess of things — perhaps because of my insatiable curiosity and inability to accept traditional thinking. She saw promise in me, and invested her time and talent into a spunky 20-something who fervently believed in the American political system — flaws and all.
Note: The following week after the wheelchair incident, the women’s restroom at LBJ School was remodeled for wheelchair access. I guess you could say its my LBJ School legacy….
As we head into the 4th of July, I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve our country for almost three decades in the federal government. Even today, I still believe my job is to provide public good — a uniquely public sector responsibility. Open government, which may be a trendy phrase, is what I’ve always believed our government exists for — much to the credit of LJB School professor Barbara Jordan and her contribution to public service. Even after leaving office, she poured into future change-makers, like me. How many other public servants are paying it forward because she invested in us….
“What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.” ~Barbara Jordan
She’s right. What people want IS an America as good as it’s promise. We’re working to make that happen every day at NASA through open innovation programs like Space Apps and LAUNCH. I’m fortunate to play a role in Open NASA movement. We have much to celebrate.
Thank you Barbara Jordan. Thank you USA.