Fighting for “the least, the last, the lost.” That’s how Jolanda Jones describes her work and the efforts of her “Sisters in Law.” Jones is one of six African American women starring in the new WE TV reality show that follows the group of lawyers around Houston, providing insight into their daily lives, trials and triumphs.
Politic365 had the opportunity to catch up with Jones, a criminal defense attorney, and Vivian R. King, a criminal lawyer who’s dubbed herself the matriarch of the group, to understand a bit more about what motivated these women to participate in a reality show.
I like this show. Its good to see black women, making an impact in the criminal justice system #SistersInLaw
— Sharell Parker (@phenixqueen) April 8, 2016
“I was sort of hesitant because I’d been on Survivor and know the power of editing,” Jones said, noting that on “every reality show with women there’s fussing, cussing, pulling hair,” and she has a law practice on the line. “I was concerned,” she continued, “but I was promised that it would show way more positive than negative; that it would show women who were working, who weren’t famous because of who they slept with or who their baby daddy is…and that they would portray Black women who are professionals in a positive light. I thought this was an opportunity to show a different perspective.”
King agreed. “We’re showing our client’s point of view. We’re showing the struggle of what a lawyer does for trial preparation, for people to understand their story,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure that the punishment fits the crime, and if they’re innocent, they get to walk away.”
In addition to offering insight into their profession, the Sisters in Law are trying to create new models to which young women of color can aspire. “We’re trying to show what a great job Black lawyers do because you don’t see that on tv,” King said. “We’re trying to show that our lives matter too, black lives do matter, and we need to reform this criminal justice system. I’m passionate about the underdog, and I hope that people start caring about the criminal justice system – not just when they’re in trouble, but in general.”
Having worked with each of the women in the cast prior to the actual filming of this show King is portrayed as the resident den mother of the group. “They tease me because I’ve mentored so many criminal lawyers, but the reason is because I didn’t have a mentor myself,” she said. “Coming up it was so white male dominated, and secondly, white female dominated. They all had people to mentor them…but we did’t have anybody.”
Although they went into this show hoping to paint a different picture for women of color, the first few episodes of Sisters in Law have had their fair share of drama – mostly centered around interactions gone south involving Rhonda, who as the no-holds-barred multi-millionaire of the groups seems to have been cast as the leading antagonist of the group. Beyond the bickering, however, the show deviates from the norm when it comes to reality shows and crime dramas.
— WE tv (@WEtv) April 9, 2016
Crime shows typically proceed from either the victim’s or the judge’s perspective, not both Jones and King. “You never see the lawyer who’s charged with representing and guaranteeing constitutional rights to people who other people think are slime balls,” said Jones who also calls on her activist spirit as being central to her life and the image she hopes is portrayed on the show. “I’m an activist,” she said. “I’ve been doing Black Lives Matter before it was called Black Lives Matter. I’ve been fighting for GLBT rights since before marriage was legal for gay people. I’ve just had a whole bunch of human rights rights issues that I’ve worked on, and I thought this would be a great platform to hit on those fights.”
For her part, King is looking to expand her community and hopes that people become invested in the show. “I would love for people to watch this show and ask what’s going to happen next? What’s in store for their clients,” she said.
Despite their differences and how they’re positioned on the show, it’s clear these Sisters in Law all share a very powerful bond. “We all have struggles. We all have a story to tell. We all came from nothing and figured out how to overcome those obstacles and become something,” Jones said. “I’m elected, so I also think that it’s important to see how politics works. Kids from the hood can look up to being lawyers…and they can grow up to be something other than hoes and baby mamas. They can be professionals.
King echoed that sentiment. “I hope that we educate people. People don’t know what we go through. We go up against Goliaths all the time. They have all the resources; we generally represent people who don’t have many resources. So I want people to see how hard we work. We are people. We make mistakes. We aren’t perfect, but we try to be better each day.”
Jones, who’s undergone her own survivor’s tale to make it where she is today aptly captured the spirit of what it means to be a Sister in Law. “It’s a struggle. Every day is a struggle. Even when you ‘make it,’ it’s not like you’ve made it. You gotta keep fighting, you gotta keep struggling.”
“Media costs money and they don’t tell our stories,” she said. “They don’t show that there are strong Black women; there are strong Black men. With enough education and perseverance, we can leave our mark and do positive things and impact society in a positive way.”