Get to Know Rukayatu
Ruky Tijani at 21 Years Old
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 21-year old self?
Keep going baby girl, God is working.
At 21, I was the first in my family to graduate from a four-year college and was well on my way to law school. Despite the amazing journey ahead of me, I suffered from debilitating anxiety and internal torment. Part of this was attributed to survivor’s guilt—the sense that I did not deserve to leave the drug-ridden impoverished neighborhood of my upbringing to build a fruitful career for myself, my family, and my community. Another part of my sentiment was attributed to simply feeling like I would be “found out,” or that I did not belong in the spaces I navigated. These feelings contributed to me counting myself out and recoiling at the sight of challenging opportunities—all out of fear that someone would think I was under-qualified for what I was called to be: an effective and worthwhile attorney.
Honestly, it’s been a long road to get to the person who writes this answer today. I just started introducing myself to people as an attorney, and I am beginning to take pride in the complexity of my background and how it contributes to the work I do. In the end, I’m so glad I kept going, notwithstanding the loud voices telling me to quit.
So to my 21 year old self, keep going, baby girl. God is truly, truly working.
Ruky Teaching a Class at UC Berkeley School of Law
What about your upbringing contributed to your success as an attorney?
In the projects of Brooklyn, New York, you quickly grow accustomed to choosing your battles.
Some battles, frankly, can get you killed—speaking back to the wrong group of folks can set you up to become a target. So you learn to pick your words and actions wisely.
This practical wisdom has helped me immensely as an attorney. In the high stakes world of litigation, every interaction with opposing counsel seems like a battle you want to fight to the death. But the most skilled lawyers know when to fight and when to simply fold; they concede some victories to win the ultimate war. I continue to see this strategy at play from the partners I work with; I hope to emulate this tried and true principal as well.
Ruky with “little” brother Abraham Tijani
Excluding legal/academic accomplishments, what is your proudest achievement?
My proudest accomplishment is being able to support my little brother Abraham. Abraham, who has Downs Syndrome and Autism, has been in and out of New York City programs for years, specifically because many organizations lack the resources and know-how to accommodate his needs. Seeing my mother build her hopes up to have them crushed over and over again broke my heart. Without a program for Abraham, my mother—Abraham’s main caretaker—does not work. I knew I needed to do something to support my family, and I wanted it to be more than a simple financial fix.
So just last year, I’ve taken it upon myself to support my brother, and by extension my family, by becoming his advocate and by working with the Medicaid representatives and directors from different New York programs to find resources that best support my brother’s needs. The progress has been tremendous, and with continued effort, Abraham will find a program that accommodates his beautiful individuality. That has truly been one of proudest accomplishments.
If you could meet any celebrity or living political figure, who would it be and what would you say to them?
I’d have to say Cicely Tyson. Ms. Tyson is in her 90s and is still going strong in her acting career. I’d love to ask her how she has kept grounded in her calling, and how she has maintained momentum for well over five decades. Her wisdom will help our generation immensely!