September 23, 2020


The towering presence of the Notorious RBG

At this very moment, in the portico of the United States Supreme Court, the body of Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose for the public to wish a final farewell.

6 years-ago yesterday, I experienced the highlight of my tenure in DC, a party for Justice Ginsburg held in the chambers of the Supreme Court. She was serenaded by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, one of her favorite opera singers. Who knew the courthouse, designed to host the bitter and bellowing conflicts of attorneys, could transmit such beautiful acoustics of harmony.

This event was shortly after an NYU student’s blog first coined “the Notorious RBG”, and many wondered silently how the reserved justice might react. So I asked her, and we were all relieved and delighted to hear her embrace the moniker associated with her fellow Brooklynite, the deceased rapper Biggie Smalls. She even became known for handing out Notorious RBG T-shirts as gifts.

From her diminutive 5 foot, 90-something pound frame, RBG exuded power and a towering presence with the weight of her words and intellect. Much is scrutinized and known about her jurisprudence and evolution from an overlooked young law school grad, to finding her voice as a fearless defender of equal rights, and to her parting stature as the legal and moral conscience of the nation. However, before we become entirely engrossed in the political ramifications of her passing, I’d like to spend a moment to celebrate personal elements of an amazing life.

  • RBG is a daughter of a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine
  • As a baby, her sister died of meningitis and in high school, her mother from cancer
  • She was a cheerleader and had a chipped tooth from twirling a baton
  • At Harvard Law when the dean invited the 9 females of her 550-member class to dinner, they were each asked to justify why they were there, taking a coveted spot from a deserving man
  • She fibbed and said she was there to be helpful to her husband by understanding his work
  • She graduated the top female from an Ivy League school and later tied for the top honor from one of the country’s leading law schools. Yet she, as all women of the day, struggled for opportunities in her chosen profession and received no job offers
  • In fact, in her first job with the Social Security Administration, she was downgraded to a bottom tier GS2 clerical position when she revealed her pregnancy
  • Her time spent in Sweden served as an inspiration for becoming a champion for equality
  • A great skill she was proud of was her use of “selective hearing” now & then in life and on the court
  • A species of praying mantis is named for her, Ilomantis Ginsburgae
  • Her workout routine was brutal. Trust me, I attempted her program but realized it was beyond my reach
  • In each bout with cancer, she rarely missed a day from work, once casting a vote from her hospital bed following surgery.
  • In the end, it took cancer 5 separate attempts to finally fell her.

I could go on endlessly but know we need time for other matters.

Just like the Notorious B.I.G. experienced with his posthumous album, Life After Death, the Notorious R.B.G., her story and her ideas, will most certainly continue a commanding life, very long beyond her death.

In a recent interview, she said “Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks…there’s no satisfaction equal to the satisfaction you get from knowing that you have made another’s life, your community, a little better for your effort.”

This week, we received a letter from our partner Norcal FDC detailing the success of a walk-up restaurant in one of the most challenged neighborhoods in Oakland, and a separate heartwarming story of a single mother who was experiencing family tragedy while launching a start-up in Contra Costa and yet expressed tears of hope.

Both of these were the result of IBank’s activities and represent some of the many stories about the impact our work is having on our communities. As I shared with our staff, it sometimes feels that we may be just dealing with paperwork and numbers, but behind each financial transaction, are real lives that are deeply impacted.

With RBG watching over us, we will continue to seek to make a difference, in particular, to help achieve an improved and more equitable quality of life for all Californians.

Scott Wu

S. Wu Signature