Black History Month Spotlight: Lorraine Justice
By Abby Parsons
This February, Rappahannock Community College celebrates Black History Month. Our faculty and staff tell us what Black History Month means to them and their own personal histories.
Featured first is Lorraine Justice, director of Student Support Services at RCC. Originally from King and Queen County, Justice lives in Essex County and has worked for the College for nearly ten years.
Strength from the Start
“My mother was from King and Queen County, employed as a field worker picking vegetables. She had only an eighth grade education and later worked as a bus driver for 40 years in the public school systems.” During her time, African-American children could not continue their education past the eighth grade without paying a fee. This cost was usually too expensive for most families to afford. “She was always a big advocate for education for all of her children – there were four of us,” said Justice. “She felt like education was a big equalizer in order to access more career opportunities.”
With her mother’s values instilled in her during childhood, Lorraine Justice set her sights on academic achievement. Before she joined the RCC community, Justice graduated from Longwood College, now known as Longwood University, in 1992. Though she was accepted at other universities, she chose Longwood because of Prince Edward County’s history of segregation to show resilience and to express her right to attend. She went on to receive her Master’s degree in 2010 from Walden University.
Justice’s latest academic venture is her proudest academic achievement. She was accepted into her doctoral program at Old Dominion University and expects to graduate this summer with a degree in Community College Leadership. “I’m getting this [degree] in honor of my mother, my godmother, and all of the women and men in my family who were not afforded this educational opportunity,” she said. “It’s bigger than me – I’m showing my son that he can do anything with hard work and the faith from God.”
A Career of Advocacy
Throughout her career, Lorraine Justice has prioritized diversity and inclusivity in her work. During her tenure at the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, she coordinated a Disability Awareness Event that gave the cause a major new spotlight. Teaming up with the late Roger Braxton, a fashion designer who had experienced a brain injury, the two and other community advocates created a fashion show for severely disabled students and others affected by other disabilities in the Middle Peninsula/Northern Neck region. Local support for the show came to an all-time high when the story was picked up by Channel 6 News, and suddenly the Warsaw event had hundreds in attendance. “This was definitely my proudest career moment, and I still see the parents of the children who participated all the time.” Justice said fondly.
Justice has had an impact on the advances of equality at RCC. She and her team wrote a successful Student Support Services Grant in 2015 that has allowed the program to expand and flourish since its foundation. Student Support Services (SSS) is a program designed to help students who are first generation, receiving financial aid and/or have a documented disability successfully navigate their college journey at RCC. Lorraine Justice and her team have just finished composing the 2020-2025 Five Year Grant for SSS and are excited to hear the results of their efforts.
Education as an Equalizer
When asked who her most inspiring leaders are, one name rose above the rest: Shirley Chisholm – one of the first African-American members of Congress, who, in 1968, became the first Black woman to be elected into US Congress. She represented New York’s 12th District and served seven terms from 1969 to 1983. “I met her when I was a student at Longwood in 1991. When she spoke – wow she just made you feel like you could do anything,” said Justice. “I got her autograph and she said, ‘I see something in you.’ I’ll never forget that. Her famous quote still resonates with me: ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’”
Among her other inspirations, Justice mentioned Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University. “All of these people felt that education was the great equalizer,” said Justice. “That is why I’m passionate and have been an advocate for everyone getting an education, especially those who have been denied access in the past.”
“I feel like Black History Month is a time to celebrate the lives, culture, and accomplishments of African-Americans from the first days of slavery up to now. We should celebrate the contributions that we as a people have given, from the arts, to music and inventions. To me, Black History Month is every day of the year.”
Abby Parsons is a member of the Marketing/Communications team at Rappahannock Community College and wrote this for Rappahannock Community College in honor of Black History Month.