If you haven’t heard, Monica Lewinsky has become a social media darling, and the status is well-earned.
Lewinsky made a comeback in the best possible way with her thoughtful, moving TED talk. Ever since, she has gained a significant following on Twitter thanks to her transparent, pithy, and often moving posts.
One, in particular, caught my eye last week.
not sure if it’s appropriate for me to say anything, but i felt sadness learning vernon jordan had passed. i knew him briefly + it became a complicated history – but he was someone whom you never forget. a giant in the civil rights movement. i’m sure he will be missed by many. https://t.co/FaMD882bQW
— Monica Lewinsky (she/her) (@MonicaLewinsky) March 2, 2021
Jordan’s considerable legacy became tangled in one of the greatest presidential scandals in recent history. The civil rights giant and trusted advisor tried to help Lewinsky land a job in Manhattan and get her away from the White House and President Bill Clinton. Networking promising young people into good jobs was something he’d done for countless others. Still, this time his efforts gave the appearance of an attempted coverup as if he were trying to “bury” a brewing scandal.
If you are a child of the era like me and you spent your young adult years pondering over the definition of the word “is,” thanks to a president’s response in a deposition, this might be all you know of Vernon Jordan. If it is, you are missing it.
Jordan, who passed away on March 1, 2021, at the age of 85, was so so much more!
Born into segregated Atlanta, Jordan successfully fought to integrate the University of Georgia.
He moved on to lead the United Negro College Fund,
and the National Urban League before taking on roles as counsel and board member for some of America’s most powerful banks and corporations. His wisdom, connections, and charm landed him a spot at the President’s right hand as a trusted advisor and close confidante.
It takes moxie to move seamlessly from the courtroom to the board room to the Oval Office and back again. Here’s how I see Jordan’s moxie:
Moxie listens and learns.
Jordan was born into a world where opportunity was limited for Black men and women. His father was a postal worker, and his mother ran her own successful catering business. It was his mother’s business that provided young Vernon a glimpse into the world of power and influence. He served as a waiter at the country club functions she catered to. He observed the way Atlanta’s power brokers carried themselves, dressed, and interacted. He listened to the speeches they gave. While no one was particularly paying attention to him, Jordan was taking it all in!
While many of his peers found positions of power and leadership through the Black church and historically Black colleges and universities, Jordan went a different route. At his mother’s urging, he attended a mostly white DePauw University in Indiana and later went to law school at the historically Black Howard University. The two experiences added to his cultural fluency and access to a diverse array of powerful leaders.
Jordan walked through the doors his mother opened for him and heeded her guidance. It’s tempting to do your own way or follow the crowd, but Jordan had the moxie and wisdom to listen to the right people and chart a different course!
Moxie crosses over and back again.
Unlike many Civil Rights leaders of his era, Jordan’s fight for equality didn’t occur from the pulpit or the picket line. It took place in the courtroom!
He was part of the team that successfully fought for the integration of the University of Georgia. He personally escorted plaintiff Charlayne Hunter-Gault onto campus through a hostile crowd of protestors.
Jordan rose in leadership through prominent civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Urban League.
His positions of leadership put him in touch with corporate leaders who served on boards. He was intrigued by that world, so he sought counsel on the respective banks and corporate boards.
As he moved through the world, he collected a vast network of connections. It was through that network that he perhaps did his most important civil rights work. He mentored and promoted an untold number of young Black leaders, connected them to opportunities and relationships that helped them break through color barriers and gain access.
Jordan’s activism looked different from other leaders like Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King, Jr., BUT he was incredibly effective in ways that didn’t always make the front page. That takes moxie, and it is safe to say that Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr. will be deeply missed by those he touched!
Vernon Jordan’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernon_Jordan
The National Urban League’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Urban_League
The United Negro College Fund’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNCF
The University of Georgia’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Georgia