The fact that the Honorable Cheri Beasley, the newly appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina—and a Gold Award Girl Scout!—is a trailblazer isn’t lost on her. She’s the first African American woman to head up a state supreme court.
“When the announcement of my appointment was made, we heard from people in North Carolina and from all over the world,” she recalls. “I sensed the excitement. After all, there have been only four African American chief justices of any court in the country, and there’s only one serving now in Los Angeles because the other two are retired. It’s a big deal, and I think it’s a wonderful testament to where our state is moving and where our country is moving.”
Beasley served as a North Carolina judge for 20 years before joining the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2012. Then, following the retirement of Chief Justice Mark Martin, she was appointed by North Carolina’s governor to this esteemed position in February 2019.
Below, Beasley, age 53, talks about her experiences in the legal world and what it takes to be a role model for the next generation of women, whatever your field.
1. Have a guiding principle throughout your career.
“As a young lawyer, I’m not sure I fully appreciated how my experiences were accumulating, how my service would be impactful, and where my journey would go. The one thing that was a constant is that I was always actively engaged in my community and the political process and I’ve always cared about those who serve our communities. In fact, this is something I learned as a Girl Scout growing up in Nashville. It was such a wonderful way to quickly engage with kids and the community.”
2. Always be open to what’s next.
Beasley was ready and willing to serve when she was appointed Chief Justice.
“There were lots of talented folks Governor Cooper could have chosen,” she says. “But I believe it’s important to not be afraid and to keep the door open when faced with a new opportunity. You don’t have to know all the answers right away, but the willingness to prepare yourself and to be open to what’s next bodes well for all of us in ways we couldn’t imagine.”
3. Explore how you can make a difference in the world.
“I was always ready to say yes to a new position if I thought I could make a contribution. This [has been] true at every juncture of my professional life. For example, when I became a district court judge, I was in the public defender’s office and [learned about] two unexpected vacancies. I sought a position, and I wasn’t appointed, but I still ran. Not shutting the door on yourself is important.”
4. Remember: sometimes the unknown is the best part of a job.
“The ‘not knowing’ about a potential new job makes the challenge that much more enriching. The learning experience along the way and engaging folks to be part of a team is part of the excitement. You don’t need to know all the answers or even the formula, but the willingness to prepare yourself bodes well in ways we can’t imagine.”
5. Look for ways to mentor young people.
“Until my most recent appointment, I read to first-graders every week. Kids are smart and they’re so excited about learning. They’re like magnets, so what you put in you’re going to get out tenfold. It’s so important we encourage their greatness. I also think it’s important to mentor high school students and college students. Teachers were really important to me, and there was always someone pouring their energy into me, so I try to pay it forward. The reality is that when I read to first-graders or when I’m helping a high school student get an internship, it’s enriching to them, but I’m fed beyond measure when I see the lightbulb go off. It’s a blessing.”