Remembering Barbara Jordan

When you spend time in the presence of someone with such clarity of purpose, your own longing for clarity grows stronger.

For me, that someone was the late Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (1936–1996).

Barbara Jordan and me, May 1993

In May 1993 I was on assignment to attend a meeting in Austin, Texas. My task as a communications officer working with a national health care foundation was to absorb every talking point and nuance, collect soundbites, and serve as a rapporteur to capture highlights from the discussion at an Advisory Council meeting chaired by Barbara Jordan. For me, this was the best of times in my career and the worst of times in my personal life.

Barbara Jordan had impeccable credentials as a lawyer, a teacher, a scholar, a champion of civil rights, and an elected leader whose distinguished political career spanned several decades.

When Barbara Jordan spoke with her distinctive broadcast-quality flair, everyone listened.

I was blown away by her eloquent and powerful voice. As I wrote in Chapter 22 of my book:

The strength of her convictions and quality of her mind—her voice combined with the power of her in-your-face charisma—inspired action. When she rubbed her hands together and said, “I’m sitting here all lathered up about this idea,” I could feel her energy.

Now when I gaze at this photograph taken during my brief interaction with her, I look beyond my anorexic body—protruding bones and striated skin—and recall the strength of her hands clasping mine. I carried this photograph in my briefcase everywhere I went for several years so I could take it out whenever I needed the reminder to “be strong.”

I will always remember the warmth and robust spirit of Barbara Jordan. She touched my life. I celebrate her ability to inspire people like me who were stumbling in life to wake up to the possibilities and move forward.

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