Nearly 20 years ago, First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a best seller believed to be about an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
On June 4, Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court Judge Jessica “Jinky” Arong O’Brien told a packed Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel ballroom in Chicago, Illinois during her installation as the first Filipino and first Asian American president of the 101-year-old Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI) for 2015-2016 by U.S. Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit how seven middle-income families in far-off Cebu in the Philippines showed the village people’s random of act of kindness and caring (bayanihan in Filipino) when they took turns in taking care of her from third grade up to high school until her mother was ready to take her to America.
Judge O’Brien said those eight years in Cebu that she considered very critical were the turning points of her life as she found inspiration and motivations from her life’s struggles and lessons.
“I was really raised by a village. These families -- seven moms and seven dads -- growing up everyday, I recognized that all I have accomplished professionally are due to my amazing village,” Judge O’Brien said as she held back her tears. And she wanted to return the favor by empowering “others to succeed.”
To give substance to her pledge to help other struggling members of the 1,000-member bar association, Judge O’Brien came up with a theme during her one-year term: “Leave No Woman Behind: Empowering through Leadership.”
Ms. O’Brien, who can still speak Cebuana, said, “When I was in third grade, my mother wanted to pursue her medical residency. Her plans were not consistent with my father’s business agenda. She left for New York with $50 in her pocket with a plane ticket from borrowed money and with my sister.
“I was left behind. And my father in the Philippines was busy with his business. I was left with my grandmother, who could not read nor write.
“My grandmother loved me. But education was not a big thing for her. With my cousins, I was a shy kid, scared kid, and I really did not want to go to school. And my grandmother, who did not care about school, told me, ‘you can stay home,’” drawing gasps from a stunned audience.