The city of South Fulton is making headlines for its justice system run entirely by black women.
Even those facing punitive justice are celebrating what’s happening. One Georgia man got a parking ticket, and he brought his daughter to court so she could see the women running it.
“He had heard about us in some kind of way, and he wanted his daughter to see this combination of black women handling business,” public defender Vivica Powell said about the experience. “He had a ticket and I wondered why he had his little girl with him. Most of the time, people do not bring school-aged children to court. He told me … this is why he brought her.”
Powell is one of the eight black women who make up South Fulton’s justice system — from Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers down to Court Clerks Tiffany Kinslow and Kerry Stephens.
They were all hired after South Fulton officially became a chartered city in May 2017. A photo of the women went viral on social media in June 2018 and has become a larger story about black, female empowerment.
“I didn’t notice until [City Solicitor LaDawn Jones] said something … she walked in and said ‘Oh my God! Look at all this black girl magic,'” Stephens said.
These women leading their local justice system is both a moment to celebrate and a powerful statement about representation.
South Fulton is about 90% African-American, so it makes sense that it would largely be represented by black people. But that kind of representation is unusual in the U.S., where women of color account for 20% of the U.S. population but only 8% of our state judges. Meanwhile, 57% of state judges are white men despite them making up only 30% of the population.
That’s what makes South Fulton so unique: Its governing body reflects its people.
“I think all of us are genuinely invested,” Sellers said. “I know several of us live in the community, have gone to school, or have been reared in the community, and so there is this personal attachment to the community that I’m not certain exists in other places.”
Having leadership that accurately reflects a community’s demographics is a huge step in moving toward more equitable justice. People of the same race (and other identities), upbringing, or socio-economic status in positions of power bring with them an understanding of what it’s like to exist in a community.
That knowledge is essential in governing with purpose — and South Fulton is setting the example for one way many U.S. communities could improve justice systems.