Exclusive: Michigan Chronicle Sits with First Black Woman Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Kyra Harris Bolden

At the heart of every pivotal moment in civil rights and political movements, the spirit of “Black Girl Magic” has been palpable, with Black women leading the charge. Their journey is one defined by an alchemy of resilience, leadership, and an unwavering commitment to justice, turning trials and challenges into triumphs. This unique blend of strength and grace under pressure is what imbues Black women’s contributions with a sense of magic; they not only overcome obstacles but do so with a brilliance that sets new standards for leadership and advocacy.

In the realm of justice, this transformative power is more evident than ever as Black women ascend to roles of critical influence. They’re not just filling positions; they’re reshaping the fabric of legal leadership with their diverse perspectives and deep understanding of the intersectionality of justice. Their rise within the judiciary, from the courtroom to the bench, symbolizes a profound shift towards a justice system that truly reflects the values of equity and fairness it seeks to uphold.

Michigan’s legal landscape vividly illustrates this evolution, with figures like Denise Langford Morris and Mabel Mayfield pioneering paths for diversity and representation. Their historic firsts in the legal field highlight Black women’s critical role in advancing justice and equity. Last year’s appointment of Kyra Harris Bolden as Michigan’s first Black woman Supreme Court Justice encapsulates this ongoing narrative of progress, showcasing how Black women continue to break barriers and redefine leadership within the justice system. This is not just a chapter in Michigan’s legal history but a testament to the enduring power and influence of Black Girl Magic in creating a more inclusive and just society.

The ascent of Black women in pivotal roles across various spheres, particularly within the justice system, is a narrative of resilience and empowerment. However, this journey is far from effortless, despite the grace with which these challenges are met. Behind the veneer of seamless success lies a reality fraught with hurdles, often equal to or surpassing those their counterparts face. Black women’s leadership path is paved with societal and systemic obstacles that test their tenacity at every turn. Yet, this very resilience and unyielding spirit propels them forward, embodying the essence of overcoming the odds.

In an enlightening session with the Michigan Chronicle, Supreme Court Justice Kyra Bolden shared her insights, shedding light on the complexities of this journey. Through a candid Q&A, Bolden offered a glimpse into the realities behind the successes, emphasizing that the appearance of effortlessness masks a backdrop of continuous struggle and perseverance. Her reflections provide an invaluable perspective on the challenges faced by Black women in the justice system and beyond, highlighting the strength and determination that fuel their continued progress and impact.

Photo: Kyra Harris Bolden, Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Ebony JJ Curry, Michigan Chronicle, Senior Reporter



Q: It’s been a little over a year since your initial appointment. What are some of the highlights, the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent? Some of your challenges, your successes, internal and external?

A: We’ll just start with the challenges because I think we all know how great an honor it is to sit on the highest court in the state of Michigan and just how much I love my job. Coming in was a bit of a whirlwind because I had a lot of factors. So, what people don’t know is that January 1, when I started, is actually in the middle of a term for the Michigan Supreme Court. So, the term starts in September, and I came in January. We had our first conference where we all meet and decide what cases we’re going to take up on January 3rd or 4th  and we had our first oral argument on January 8 and 9th. So, really having to hit the ground running literally, and absorbing all this new information, and then also just having a newborn. Juggling this new, important, substantial job and then learning to be a mother every day because she’s changing every day was a challenge. And then you get into Black History Month in February and then Women’s History Month in March. So, it was a bit of a whirlwind for me, and it got to a point where it was a lot to manage. I’m much better now, but it was a challenge trying to juggle work and life. I’ve just learned to try to be present in the moments that I’m in and just really hone in on what I need to do when I need to do it.


Q: How has your experience as a Black woman influenced leadership and decision-making as a Supreme Court judge?

A: It’s always been important for me to just bring myself to the table. And what’s so interesting is sometimes I will ask questions just because I like to know process and procedure. And sometimes, or a lot of times, the answer was, ‘Well, that’s how it’s always been done.’ And for me I like to push and just say, like, ‘Well, is this the most efficient and effective process to achieve a means to an end?’ So, I think bringing that to the table I’ve really been conscious about picking staff that are the most qualified, but also diverse. When I came in, and for the last year, I’ve had the only Black law clerk that was at the Michigan Supreme Court. I think it’s important to have people with different lenses looking at the cases because our state is diverse. I can’t say that I have all the answers, and I’m looking at cases through my own personal lens. I need people around me with different life experiences that can say what reasonable means to them, because that’s built into our law. You’re trying to determine what a reasonable person would do; well, it depends upon your life experience. So, I think pushing that and bringing that to the table has really been valuable, pushing narratives and trying to change the system or changing different lenses and how we look at things.


Q: Jesse Lee Bond, a 20-year-old cotton farmer from Tennessee. Lynched because he, a black man, your great grandfather, asked for a receipt…the very thing that you fight for from your political journey to the Supreme Court, the fight for just treatment, was his very demise. At what point did your great-grandfather’s story give you the push to pursue a career that pushes the advancement of our people?

A: I think it’s important to note that I actually didn’t know about the story until I was an adult in college, and I had the great fortune of having my great-grandmother with me. So, hearing the story from her was really a turning point because until that point, obviously, I knew about the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, redlining, slavery. I knew all about these things. But when you still have a living relative that can tell you that they experienced it in their lifetime and they’re sitting there talking to you, you realize that it didn’t happen so long ago, that government sanction injustice was the norm. Just being candid, I received my degree in psychology, but I knew I didn’t want to be a psychologist at some point, definitely by the end of my senior year in college. But I’ve always had a really strong sense of justice, and I think hearing my family’s history and a couple other experiences, talking to my friends, family, and professors, I really felt the push to go to law school so that families could see justice in a way that my family hadn’t seen justice.



Q: Regarding criminal justice reform, what do you see for short-term goals, and what more aspirational things are still attainable but will take a bit longer?

A: We don’t usually bring anything to the forefront; that’s more of the legislature. But what I can say is that when I was in the legislature, I worked on landmark legislation that was able to get passed into law. The medically frail prison reform bill package, I was a part of an amendment to the wrongful imprisonment compensation act and the address confidentiality act that shields the address for survivors of sexual assault and violence. I think on the horizon, or at least a lot of what is being brought up in the nation, but in our courts now, are what justice looks like for juvenile offenders. I think one thing that is always important in our job, because we’re getting appeals from many criminal defendants that feel their process was wrong in some way. I will say, from our position, sometimes things don’t pan out the way that people want, but I think it’s always important to give a fresh eye and just make sure that justice is being observed and carried out.


Q: What are some of the most important issues regarding the Black community and this upcoming presidential election?

A: I think the forefront of what we should be concerned about, first and foremost, is voting. I know that there can be voter apathy because a lot of people may or may not see the changes that they wish to see but I can say as someone that’s currently up for election and someone that ran in this space previously, it just so happened that I was able to get appointed, because a seat opened up but I lost my election and so there. If it wasn’t for Justice Bridgette Mary McCormick leaving, I would not be serving. As much as I am honored in how people say that I’m an inspiration and all the things that I’m trying to do to help push us forward, I would not have been here but for an appointment. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant because there are so many broader implications. I can say, in my experience, representation absolutely matters. And even if you don’t see something immediately there’s somebody making decisions on your behalf, and you want to be a voice at that table and selecting the person that’s representing you. So, I would say, first and foremost, voting is one of the most important things that can be done.



Q: As a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the foundation is steady on sisterhood, scholarship, and service for all mankind. How have these principles helped you along your journey and vice versa? How have your journey amplified these principles?

A: I would not be here without sisterhood, and one thing I always take with me in all my positions is service. It’s never about me personally, even in being in the legislature and being in this position; they are service positions. My sorority prepared me for that thought process, that what you’re doing is in service to your community. I’ve had so many wonderful mentors that I could not even start to list. If I did, I would probably start tearing up. They have mentored me in such a way that they knew I might exceed them one day, and they wanted that for me. There are so many people that want to mentor in place or want to mentor you according to where they think you should be, but really seeing potential in somebody and uplifting them in a different way is really important. And I would say that extends beyond my personal sorority. For example, I always tell the story of Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence. She’s the first person that asked me to run for Michigan Supreme Court in June of 2021, and she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself during that time, but she pulled me aside and really uplifted me and saw something in me. I will forever be grateful to her for that.


Q: When we talk about Black women being in spaces where we aren’t normally invited, accepted, or seen, imposter syndrome can sneak up on us. In your previous speaking engagements, you mentioned that you didn’t fall into this syndrome. How do you continue to remind yourself of this when faced with inevitable micro-aggressions?

A: I often remind myself that this isn’t my first rodeo into an elected space. I started this journey in 2018. So, everything that might have been said. ‘you’re inexperienced, you’re too young, you’re too this, and you’re too that.’ My response has always been, you can say whatever you want but you will not outwork me. And I think I’ve held true to that. So, you can dislike me, but I don’t know a person that can say she didn’t work hard. I know the work, effort, and the heart that I put into being in this space. And so, I do know that I deserve to be here. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, I really want us to remove imposter syndrome from our vocabularies. There’s a difference between feeling insecure in a space that was built for you. There is no shame in feeling insecure in a space that was not built for you or built specifically to keep you out of it. So, you can’t put that on your shoulders. What you can do is work hard to change the spaces that you’re in, bring your full self to the table, and then invite other people in. But you must relieve.


Q: It’s no secret that our counterparts oftentimes feel intimidated by the powerful presence Black women carry effortlessly, especially in spaces where we aren’t necessarily the “norm.” What are some of your foundational concepts and principles regarding being an unapologetic Black woman in powerful positions?

A: I have no problem bringing my full self and my natural hair to the table or my weave, whatever day it is. I think what’s important for me is I always sit back and listen. And so, while I ask questions, it’s usually out of genuine curiosity because I want to learn the process and procedure of what’s going on. I think it’s hard to go into a situation and want to change things without understanding the current process. It allows you to ask the right questions and then build enough rapport that when you ask a question, it’s met with the attention that it deserves.


Q: Who do you seek guidance from?

A: First and foremost, I pray about it. Secondarily, I go to my mother, my sister, my husband, not necessarily in that order, and then before I decide to do something, I literally do a pros and cons list because I think as women, and particularly Black women, a lot of times we put fear at the top of our con list. And that was the same for me. So, then you break that down into what is the fear? Perceived or actual? Fear of no income – that’s real fear, because I was not working when I was running for office. I had no income. Fear of losing or fear of being embarrassed – that’s kind of an intangible fear.


Q: What’s your regime for self-care? What’s Kyra’s definition? Aside from justice, mother, wife, and everything in between, what brings you to the middle?

A: I love this question, and depending upon who asks it, I have a different answer. If you had asked me last year, I would have said, next question. Last year, I was really pouring from an empty cup, and I would tell all my friends, you can’t pour from an empty cup. And I was doing that myself. I was spread way too thin. Now I’m a little bit more settled. But what self-care looks like for me is weekly therapy; you need a safe space to unpack things. I also try my best to exercise every morning and just keep my body strong. And I get monthly massages. So, I’m definitely doing better with self-care, much better.


Q: We’ve become accustomed to saying Black girl magic…so, Justice Kyra Harris Bolden, what makes your Black magic?

A: Well, I think other black women. I think while people think what I have done is inspiring, which I fully accept, or maybe not fully because I just think of all the millions of Black women and the Black women in my life that have done the things that I’m doing, maybe just not as public. I ran for Michigan Supreme Court, pregnant, delivered my baby, got back on the campaign trail, and, you know, people are just like, it’s amazing. And looking back on it, I’m like, yes, yes, it was. However, I talked to women every day, and they’d say they had to work up until their delivery date and that they had to go back to work in less than six weeks. I have seen so many women as examples for me to know that I could do it. And just seeing my mother and my grandmother and how they were able to navigate. That gave me the strength and confidence in the magic to be able to do what I’m doing.

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