Judge Joaquim Barbos just became Brazil’s first black judge to preside over the country’s high court. The 58-year-old was nominated by his fellow justices, and rose through the ranks after being born into a poor family and overcoming tough odds.

Judge Barbos joined the Supreme Court in 2003 when he was appointed by then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Although two mixed-race judges were already on the high court, Barbos’ appointment was a coup for black Brazilians because  he was “widely recognized as a black man”.

Although Brazil has the largest population of black people outside of Nigeria, Barbos said his position on the court sends a powerful signal to black Brazilians.

“This act has great significance, as it indicates to society the end of certain visible and invisible barriers,” he said of his appointment to the court.

As black Brazilians continue to struggle to gain equality within a country that both celebrates their traditions and minimizes their roles in sociality, Barbos’ accomplishment is a great sign for Brazil as it continue to grapple with its racial identity.

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