Joyette Holmes, Esq most recently was appointed to serve as the District Attorney within Cobb County, Ga. She became the first African American woman to serve in this capacity within Cobb County. Appointed by the governor at the time, Governor Kemp, Attorney Holmes was appointed to the Ahmad Aubrey investigation. Holmes changed the stereotype of the everyday black woman. Conservative, Southern and Black, Holmes gave a voice to a growing population of black women leaders.
Holmes has since been replaced during the most recent election cycle as Georgia undoubtedly turned blue which enacted a change in her position. Holmes now serves as a diversity consultant, speaker, and author. Her goal is to give a voice to a growing group of black women.
What inspired you to become an attorney?
In early high school, the TV show Law and Order inspired me to become an attorney. While it is a fictional show, I enjoyed seeing the lawyers take an investigation, negotiate when they could, and prepare the case to present to the jury or court. Participating in my juvenile court internship in college really showed me how a desire to serve could be a part of a profession as an attorney.
As the first African American woman to serve as District Attorney for Cobb County, GA, what obstacles did you have to overcome?
In a county that did not have much diversity amongst its elected leaders, many were unwilling to believe that I was tapped to serve because I was qualified. For them I was selected solely for my race and gender. Though I knew that I was more than qualified based on my years of experience serving as a staff attorney, public defender, private attorney, law firm owner, prosecutor in the State and Superior Courts, and elected Chief Judge of the Magistrate Court, it was a stinging feeling to have my colleagues minimize my ability to . I am overjoyed to have made history and absolutely humbled to be celebrated for breaking glass ceilings. It was an obstacle that I had to internally overcome and had to stop allowing others to dim the success that I have been blessed with and worked hard to achieve.
As a black woman I led with a different lens and perspective. I believe that I challenged the norms by taking a perspective on public safety that required a commitment to truly being a part of the community. To me that meant taking up opportunities to create a space to restore court-involved individuals and empower people through education and prevention. Creating and/or maintaining a safe community required work beyond a focus on convictions and sentencing. It did not ignore the cases where full prosecution and tough sentence recommendations were appropriate to protect a victim or community. It was a perspective that took the full story of the case into account before making decisions on a case. This caused people to challenge me and the programs and policies that was put into place in a way not done with anyone else. These challenges were internal and external. The challenges were especially pervasive amongst people who believed in the same types of policies, but unwilling to follow it because it seemed to conflict with their view of what a black woman appointed by a republican governor would believe. Crazy.
Working in the public sector can bring a lot of attention to a person in such a prestigious position. What advice do you have for others when it comes to life balance and being in the public eye?
In whatever way you choose to seek guidance, do it before you head out each day. I pray that God gives me the ability to discern every scenario (person or thing) that comes my way. Continue to be the person you were when you were just being considered for the job. Do what you know to be right even when you know it doesn’t fit into the box that people expect. The fact that more people are watching you and judging your decisions should not change the moral compass and integrity with which you make the decisions. While there is no real balance, at least make sure you are healthy in mind, body, and soul.
Overseeing the Ahmad Aubrey investigation definitely had to be trying because of it being one of the many high profile cases. How were you able to disconnect once everything was done?
Overseeing the Ahmaud Aubrey case beginning days after the McMichaels were arrested and through the arrest of William Roddy Bryan, their indictments, successfully presenting the charges through a preliminary hearing, and successfully arguing our office’s objections to the defendant’s requests for bond was very trying. It was, however, a role that I was honored to fill to do what was required as the special prosecutor assigned to the case. Once we determined that there was sufficient evidence to bring a case forward, we did what the law required to seek justice. Even when the path seemed difficult and criticism and doubt were at its highest levels, the team never lost focus and I was proud to be a part of that. Of course, I would have liked to see the case through but it would not be so. Ahmaud’s family had already seen so much instability in their efforts and needed to bring the tragedy to light and have justice brought forward. For this reason, disconnecting was not easy but the faith I have gives me peace that the case will continue to move forward and prayers of Ahmaud’s family and all those who watched in horror will be answered.
Now that your term is complete as DA, you serve as a diversity consultant, speaker, and author. What great things are you working on?
I currently serve as a Member (most people refer to it as a Partner) in the law firm Gregory Doyle Calhoun & Rogers (GDCR). The firm handles an array of needs for corporations, small businesses, government entities, school districts, and individuals. I’m in the litigation practice and also serve as the goodwill ambassador for non-profits, the local chamber of commerce, and other organizations that advance philanthropy and service to the community. Having served in a number of roles where I have been one of few minorities or had the honor of being the first Women and African-american to serve – I believe it is my responsibility to seek opportunities to share with individuals and organizations why different perspectives are important to the success of their mission. That requires bringing on people who don’t look like you, love like you, exercise their faith like you, or did not grow up with the same opportunities as you.
While I am not serving as DA nor practicing criminal law in my daily work, criminal justice reform and youth empowerment remain a priority for me. I am teaming up with a number of other nonprofits and organizations to create a conglomerate of resources to push forward that mission. Additionally, my umbrella program Project Restore 360 will be relaunching in its continued efforts to advance restorative justice initiatives in the near future.
Finally if you could be the voice for all black women, what would you say?
I have to quote a lyric from a song that I have recently become familiar with as it spoke to me so clearly. “You were made to do what no one’s done, and even though they shade you…you shine like the sun!” – Tobe Nwigwe
Continue to shine my sisters! Press forward in truth even in the face of what others would intend to be your defeat. Knowledge, Character, and Integrity Always Wins! Forge success in the Mission regards of the position.
Article first published in Pretty Women Hustle Online