Law professor Tanya Washington says Maya Angelou inspired her career

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Photo source: Tanya Washington

Tanya Washington, a Georgia State University College of Law professor, comes from a long line of educators. As a fourth generation teacher, the importance and power of education were ingrained into her from the time she was a child in Washington, D.C. From there, she was driven by a passion for guiding and encouraging others, and now she does this as she lectures to a plethora of college students.

Not only does she educate her students, but the Harvard Law School graduate has shared her knowledge on educational issues, race, and other topics in journals such as the Harvard Journal for Race and Ethnic Justice, Indiana Law Review, and Iowa Journal of Gender.


Washington explained to rolling out what motivates her as a professor, why being educated is so imperative, and how a Maya Angelou poem drives her to be greater.

What is your favorite affirmation?
My favorite affirmation is a passage from a quote by Marianne Williamson that the late South African president Nelson Mandela recited in his 1994 inaugural speech. It reminds me of my unlimited potential and that of everyone I encounter, and it highlights the power that lies in facing and consciously relinquishing my fears and embracing my destiny. It reads:


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Explain why education is so important.
As a fourth generation teacher, I appreciate the transformative power of education. Teaching is my passion and my gift and I work hard to be one of those educators the late laureate Maya Angelou described in one of her poems, who stand in classrooms loving her children to understanding. My goal as an educator is to help my students discover their brilliance and to encourage them to use it to improve their lives and the world we live in. There is no greater thrill than helping others achieve excellence. I believe in the capacity of each person to make a valuable contribution to the world, and I endeavor as an educator to help my students achieve according to their unlimited potential. A good education can transform lives, communities and nations, and the first lesson it imparts is an appreciation for one’s potential.

Explain the importance of being empathetic and listening to others.
The ability to listen to others and empathize with experiences different from our own is reflective of evolved intellectual and emotional intelligence. Most of us are well versed in what we think and believe and we are poised to express and defend our positions. I remind myself constantly that I don’t know everything and that perspectives and experiences different from my own (no matter how inconceivable they may seem) are no less legitimate than my own perspectives and experiences. I work hard to listen to others, without judgement and with respect, especially when I don’t agree with them, and I allow their viewpoints to challenge and inform my beliefs so that my thinking can expand.

Why is gratitude important?
I am convinced that an attitude of gratitude attracts more to be grateful for. I am grateful for everything and I am always saying thank you! It can be challenging to be grateful, especially when reality doesn’t take the form and shape that I would like to see. Life has taught me that gratitude is transformative. Being grateful helps me to take my focus away from circumstances that may provoke complaint and focus on all of the amazing experiences and opportunities I’ve been blessed with. The sublime power of gratitude inspires humility and generates abundance.

How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style is best described as one that seeks to inspire and empower those around me to reach their potential. The key to effective leadership is service. I am not in my position as a law professor by myself or for myself. My accomplishments are the result of the efforts and sacrifices of my mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers, by people who I never even knew who fought for inclusion and justice and against discrimination and prejudice. I am responsible for paying it forward and honoring them by investing in and planting seeds in others. I am only an effective leader if I am an asset to those I serve.

What makes the world tick?
I believe logic makes the world tick; passion makes it beautiful! My passion for law is rooted in a conception of the law as an art, not a craft. I am passionate about law’s capacity to improve the human condition and this belief animates my writing, teaching and research and makes my work relevant.

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