I have been lucky to have had a number of important work partnerships over the years – colleagues and bosses and co-authors that I have worked with closely on big projects and challenging assignments.
No work partnership I have ever had has been more long-lasting or more productive than my relationship with Liberty Aldrich. I worked with Liberty for 18 years at the Center for Court Innovation. These were years of enormous change and growth which saw the agency expand its reach to every borough in New York City as well as locations across the country and around the world.
My time at the Center ended last year. Liberty’s will end shortly as she transitions to a new role as a New York City Family Court judge.
I have so many memories of our work together – award ceremonies and tricky HR decisions and trips to Congress and brainstorming sessions and so many more besides – but when I think of Liberty the first thing that pops into my head is a moment that occurred 5 or 6 years ago. I can’t remember precisely what we were working on, but I remember clearly Liberty’s exasperation with me on the day she came into my office and offered this withering assessment: “You aren’t tough enough to be a nonprofit executive.”
Breaking down this conversation later that night with my wife, I realized that, as is so often the case with her, Liberty’s message to me had multiple layers.
On the surface, Liberty was, of course, criticizing me. This was not atypical. Liberty likes a good argument and believes in speaking truth to power. (To her credit, she gets as well as she gives.)
But one level down, I could discern something else: concern for me. Liberty was communicating that I was worthy of her time and interest, that she cared enough about me to notice how I was doing. I never doubted that I mattered to her. This was hardly unique to me. Liberty is a keen observer who thinks deeply about all of the people in her orbit and tries to arrange the world so that everyone can thrive.
But as I excavated further, I think I ultimately found the true purpose of Liberty’s remark to me. At the most basic level, Liberty was exhorting me to do better on behalf of the people and the cause that we were trying to advance. This is Liberty’s not-so secret superpower and the engine for her remarkable record of creativity and accomplishment: she is driven by a deep and abiding commitment to achieving justice on behalf of the voiceless, the marginalized, and the unrepresented. The name of one of the projects that Liberty helped give birth to at the Center speaks volumes: Poverty Justice Solutions. That's what Liberty was and is about.
Liberty’s moral compass and sense of purpose are what has made her such an effective and inspiring leader -- not just at the Center for Court Innovation, but in her work creating LIFT and in other settings. I have no doubt these same qualities will make her an excellent judge.
I miss having Liberty as a colleague but am blessed to have her as a friend.