I will never forget Thursday nights at Washington & Lee University law school in Lexington, Va., in the fall of 1991-spring 1992. Laura, Ronda, Charlene and I would all gather at Laura's apartment and watch The Cosby Show and A Different World. We blocked out this time religiously so that we could have a study and dinner break that would allow us to forget the challenges of being law students.
This was a special time for us because that fall was also the great firestorm over Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court. Anita Hill (a black female lawyer) had accused him of sexual harrassment and for us as aspring young black female attorneys we were looked upon by our overwhelmingly white male conservative classmates and law professors with a question mark. Meaning were we going to be model black female lawyers and moms like Clair Huxtable or would we be troublemakers like the real-life Anita Hill. Our class was the largest class of African Americans W&L had taken in its hundreds of year history. (There were 13 of us.) It was a tough time to be sure, but we were breaking ground, so it was worth it in hindsight.
Clair Huxtable came into my life in 1984, my junior year of high school. And from that moment forward, she was a role model for me and all I aspired to be: a wife, a mom, a successful attorney and a well-poised, fabulously dressed, attractive black woman. Clair was new for someone like me. I grew up working-class—my parents worked for a living. We lived in a modest home and had a normal life. I did not know any black professionals. I never saw the so-called "black elite" until The Cosby Show. My mom had a two-year nursing degree, and my dad had been an SGM in the U.S. Army. We weren't middle class—we were working—blue-collar folk, plain and simple. Clair embodied all I could be, despite my humble beginnings.
Well as the story turns out—I became a lawyer, I dress well and look pretty fabulous (smiling)—but I did not achieve the precious goals of motherhood and marriage. But that is another blog for another day. All in all, Phylicia Rashad's character had a positive and important role in my development as a black professional woman.
—SOPHIA A. NELSON