In May 2017, the city of South Fulton, Georgia was chartered, becoming Georgia’s fifth largest city and a breeding-ground for black excellence.
Eight women, black women, are leading every criminal justice department in the developing city, and the world is taking notice. After a photo of the women went viral, people around the country have been wondering who these women are and how they came to create a hub of #blackgirlmagic in their city’s criminal justice division.
While speaking with WSB-TV Atlanta, Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers said the dream team came together organically and she sees it as a "wonderful thing." The University of Georgia School of Law graduate "was selected through a panel of experienced judges from the surrounding community," according to The Atlanta Voice, and went on to appoint court administrator, Lakesiya Cofield, the city’s first chief court clerk, Ramona Howard, City Solicitor LaDawn "LBJ" Jones and City Public Defender Viveca Famber Powell. Also included in the historic group are Chief of Police Sheila Rogers, Clerk Tiffany Kinslow and Clerk Kerry Stephens.
"I don’t think that any of us is going around thinking 'yeah we’re going to make history and we're breaking barriers.' We’re just doing our jobs," Sellers said to WSB-TV Atlanta. "We all are here. We're invested in the community, and I think that’s what makes it special."
Although the collective clocks in, like most employees do, to complete their daily tasks, Sellers explains that when they make decisions they also bring their experiences as mothers, wives and black women in America with them. They are also using innovative methods to form policies within the court that haven’t been widely used in other court systems across the nation. As The Atlanta Voice reports, these tactics include: "guaranteed access to an attorney, a robust diversion program (Second Chance South Fulton) that is infused into the court process, and overall respect for victims and the accused alike."
One of the standout parts of their approach is the pre-trial diversion program led by City Solicitor Jones. She believes, as all the women on the team do, laws are put in place to keep citizens and the city safe, but when enforcing said laws and practices, she believes not all punishments should lead to a cell.
"You can do that without sending everyone to jail or enforce high fees. Most people do better when they know better," Jones said.
Funding for the program is allocated from the court’s budget and allows "offenders to keep a clean record in exchange for community service, education, and counseling where appropriate," The Atlanta Voice notes.
Another notable element of their process is the appointment of a public defender regardless of a person's finances. Anyone who appears before the South Fulton court has access to an appointed counsel. Public Defender Powell explains to The Atlanta Voice that affording citizens this opportunity gives justice a fair chance to prevail.
"Although we handle misdemeanors, the cases can have serious long-term effects on the person accused. Having an opportunity to advise clients ensures justice is received by all," Powell said.
And in the true spirit of southern hospitality, in this court, respect reigns supreme for all. From the second someone enters the building, regardless of their position, it is imperative that they are treated with consideration.
This city may only be a year old, but it is showing the country that age is nothing but a number when it comes to making history. And if Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams is elected to the position in November, she will be America's first black female governor. Needless to say, Georgia is definitely a state to watch!
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