Joaquim Barbosa the bricklayer’s son

In a historic move that has ignited optimism in Brazil, on November 22nd, Joaquim Barbosa was sworn in as the first Black person to preside over Brazil’s Supreme court.

Born in 1954 to a brick layer father and a mother who was a cleaner, Barbosa left home at the age of 16 to study in Brasilia. To pay for his education, he worked as a cleaner and a typesetter, earning a law degree from the University of Brasilia. After graduation, he was employed by the Foreign Ministry and later he became a prosecutor in the federal government. Renowned for his tough stand against corruption, Barbosa quickly rose through the ranks to become the only black person to serve the supreme court in 2003.

Last week, in a ceremony filled with dignitaries and proud family members, Joaquim Barbosa became the first black person to head the supreme court. It is a landmark move for Brazil. After all, it was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, and despite having one of the largest population of people of African-descent, few Black Brazilians are at the pinnacle of politics or business.

At his inaugural ceremony, Barbosa who is renowned for his tough stand against corruption addressed the issue of race in Brazil: “I must be intellectually honest and say there is a great justice deficit among us. Not all Brazillians are treated equally.” I share the enthusiasm of many around the world who hope that Joaquim Barbosa’s appointment inspires Brazil to do more to bridge the gap equality gap between its different cultures.

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