It was August 2004 and I had come to Washington to produce an oral history interview for Columbia University’s Women in Law Project with Ruth Ginsburg at the United States Supreme Court. It was an honor and a worrisome assignment. An interview in chambers with a Supreme Court Justice was a rare video assignment in 2004. I had spent months dealing with security clearances and selected a plush business class hotel for its proximity to the court. I knew I would need hours to get the van’s chassis swiped for explosives and have every piece of gear examined to enter the building; 9/11 had happened only three years before and every aspect of public life had changed.

So I was up early, worried about the shoot. Looking out the window from my Capitol Hill hotel room, I could see something puzzling below — mothers with all their worldly possessions in bags and carts with infants in arms, mingling among business class travelers who were grabbing taxis at the front door. It was just before 7 a.m. and a new day was dawning in Washington. I was due to meet the crew and director of Columbia’s Oral History Program in less than an hour. I called home and reached Georgia, my partner in life and filmmaking. I needed the reassurance that voice in my ear provides.

I went to the lobby. I walked up to a doorman with epaulettes on his shoulders and asked what’s going on, and there was kindness in his manner. “Go to the end of our building and turn right, halfway down the block is the oldest and biggest homeless shelter for adults in D.C. They’ve got to get out every morning and can’t return till dark,” he explained.

As a filmmaker, I had filmed in slums, on plantations, in dump sites and wherever poor children were exploited. I became aware of a parallel universe of homeless children who could be found hiding in plain sight. But I had no experience of children in these numbers on the streets of America. I was about to film an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg who founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU and is known for her life’s philosophy of, “Do something that makes life better for people less fortunate than yourself.” And I was standing in front of a forbidding adult shelter where women were threatened with eviction if their babies and children were seen or heard living with them and forced out to wander the streets till they could return surreptitiously for the night.

I knew RBG spent her career working for the justice these women and children deserved. The next time I called home, my outraged wife had mobilized a very talented female filmmaker and Islander, Sara Nesson, and launched the production of a documentary short called America’s Child that would help close that shelter and draw attention to a fraction of the two million homeless mothers and children in America on any given day. On this day, these families were on the street less than a third of a mile from the Capitol Rotunda. I wish I could say this doesn’t happen in America today. Unfortunately, that would be wrong.

Looking back, August 9, 2004 was an important day for me personally. I remember how tiny Justice Ginsburg was, and I particularly remember how brilliant she was. This is what a public servant with a moral compass looks and sounds like. This is what a brilliant woman leading the country looks and sounds like. I remember being awed by the quiet majesty of the Supreme Court, the silent power of our democracy and constitution, the rule of law equalized for us all.

This morning, my wife made her tea in her RGB mug. But we have lost far more in this country than a jurist of conscience. Children’s rights are human rights and the passing of Justice Ginsburg reminds me of why I go to work every day. “One lives not for oneself but for one’s community,” she said. Words that join the wisdom of her legacy.

Len Morris is a documentary filmmaker who lives in Vineyard Haven.