You Can Call Her Madam DA; Fani Willis on Making History As Fulton County’s First Woman District Attorney

Article by · January 20, 2021 ·

“From being a very, very little girl until I sit here today, there was never anything I’ve ever wanted to do but practice law or sit on the bench,” Fulton County’s newest district attorney (DA) Fani Willis explains. “I always knew that I wanted to be the district attorney, but in my mind, I would never run against the sitting DA… but the cries got louder and louder and louder… and I just took the leap of faith and did what God called me to do.”

About Fani
Fani Willis was recently elected as the latest district attorney for Fulton County in Atlanta, Georgia. She took the challenge of running against the sitting 6-term Fulton DA, Paul Howard, when she ultimately took the fundamental seat in service to her constituents.

Fani has served as a lawyer for 24 years. She studied and graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1992, and later graduated from Emory University School of Law in 1996. 

Career Accomplishments
Her studies only encouraged her willingness to serve the people of Georgia. After her educational accomplishments, Fani moved forward to become a lawyer for the private sector, where she dutifully served thousands of members within her community as a representative for criminal justice, juvenile cases, and plenty of various civil matters. 

Only five short years later, in 2001, Fani accepted the substantial opportunity to serve as an assistant district attorney for Fulton County and has honorably served her community ever since. In 2018, Fani opened a firm, The Offices of Fani T. Willis, LLC., in Atlanta, where she has continued to specialize in Criminal Defense and Family Law—particularly for fathers’ rights, which is a particular realm after her own heart. Fani soon became one of the few African-Americans in Georgia to serve the Judicial Qualification Division, where she prosecuted unethical judiciary actions. Fani has also effectively welcomed other ventures into her life aside from her law career, including her non-profit organization, Love for Carla. The institution was initially founded in 2015 to raise awareness for sickle cell anemia—a red blood cell disease that has afflicted a dear friend of Fani’s. Not only has she accomplished compassionate possibilities, but Fani was also awarded the Most Powerful and Influential Woman of the Year in 2018 due to her career dedication.

The new District Attorney Willis decided to take her chances and tend to the needs of her community, explaining that “some of these South Fulton advocates… were really pressing me, like, ‘We’re not being paid attention to, we want to be sure that we’re safe.’” Fani’s unseating of Paul Howard as Fulton County District Attorney has earned her a considerable break as she is now set to be the first woman to service Fulton County as district attorney. 

Fani Willis signing swearing in papers.

Fani’s African-American History
Fani has a seemingly proud family background as an African-American woman. As what can now be considered a conscious foreshadowing to her future endeavors, she describes her Swahili name’s intended meaning, saying: “My name is actually Fani (fah-nee), Taifa is my middle name, and my last name is Willis. So, my father was a Black Panther, so he was very Afrocentric… my name is Swahili. Fani actually means ‘prosperous,’ and Taifa means ‘people’.” 

Fani celebrates her name’s interpretation as an expressive tip toward the African culture. She explains, regarding the term “prosperous” that “We’re not talking about material things in wealth, we’re talking about that stuff that really matters… I always remember my roots, that I come from a prosperous people, which are African people.” 

While Fani has continued to carry through with the fulfillment of her birth-given name, it’s easy to recognize the fact that she is dedicated to creating a similar community as her ancestors: one of meaningful and authentic prosperity.

The Choice to Run Against the Sitting DA
Fani was not always keen on the idea of running against her past employer, who served as District Attorney for nearly 20 years. Nonetheless, her concluding decision was the dawn of a justified change and the unraveling of a prior unfit candidate.  

In response to the reasoning behind her decision to compete for Howard’s seat, Fani explains that the District Attorney’s Office in Fulton County was “broken” under his control. According to Fani, Howard’s operation as DA was ultimately unprofessional in a diversity of scopes. She explains that her previous employer’s claims about the office’s ability to prosecute particular cases in under an hour were especially insufficient. 

Alongside that, Howard was unable to provide adequacy for communication with his staff. Many employees were willfully leaving Fulton County to work for less pay in neighboring communities, a problem that points back to dissatisfaction in the workplace. Fani also claims that Howard’s work was not productive or innovative, and his actions to promote certain “programs” which she says are “empty programs, they’re not doing anything.”

Among the other problems within the office came the prevailing issue of sexual harassment lawsuits that had been snowballing against Howard, alongside evidence of inappropriateness—both professionally and sexually—toward employees in the workplace.

Despite the previous DA’s lack of professionalism and care for his community, Fani describes the turning point for her ultimate decision to run against Howard as the moment that she heard from someone—a meaningful person that she illustrates as her personal mentor. After tussling with her mind and consistently asking God for an answer, Fani recounts her friend specifically saying, “You might as well do it.” Following that conversation, Fani ultimately left her undecidedness in the wake.

Plans for A Better Community
In describing her plans to create a better community, Fani illuminates her Pre-Indictment Diversion Plan, which permits society members who have made felony mistakes the opportunity to avoid indictment with “individually customized” community service and higher education. 

She also illuminates her endorsement by the Carpenters Union, which will allow ten people the chance to participate in carpentry school while also earning a paycheck during their pilot program that will take off in 2021. She enthusiastically asks, concerning this new program, “Can you imagine the lives that we are going to change by giving people that opportunity? And not just their individual lives, but they’re now going to be able to provide for a family… for a sister, that got my headlights goin’ on.” 

Fani hopes to ask various similar industries whether they can help people (who have never been convicted) through a similar pilot program. Her essential hope is to deter criminal indictments through the educational and employment possibilities that will teach the importance of avoiding illegal behavior while providing the accused individuals with the ability to continue life without limits. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis with team.

Transparent Prosecution
Not to mention, Fani explains that the redirection of accused members of Fulton County—whose charges may not be substantial enough to require conviction—will enable the District Attorney’s Office to make violent cases, including murders and rapes, their priority. Fani explains that the act of a district attorney is to have a sort of common sense. She says: 

I’m still going to be your prosecutor… [but] Who are the people that we can redirect? Who are the people that we can build up?… And who do we just need [removed] from us?… We’re going to remove those violent people that are killing people and shooting people. You have a gun, and you shot someone? You’re going to have problems coming to the DA’s office. But if you have a drug charge or some drug problems, or you know, you stole, and you don’t really understand how much that hurts the community, I think those people can be worked with and given the opportunity. And we’re going to do everything in my power to make those opportunities happen.

Fani plans to ultimately use the opportunity as Fulton County District Attorney to benefit all members of the community—without diversity. Fani’s mission as a prosecutor is to ensure that misconduct by any person in Fulton County has its proper consideration and equivalent treatment, regardless of race, class, and/or government position. 

She explains that she will be transparent in all of her doings while she recognizes the common distrust toward the police in 2020, saying, “I’m going to do what’s right…for everyone’s case. I’m not going to treat the police any better, but I’m not going to treat the police any worse either.” In the absence of any case’s proper investigation or the lack of a fair trial, indictment will not happen under the wing of Fani Willis. 

A Woman Worthy of Her Name
Fani Willis has not only influentially taken the place of Fulton County’s previous 6-term DA, but she has also affirmed herself to be a dedicated prosecutor who is willing to serve a population of over one million constituents. Her disposition to act as the new district attorney will provide her community members with a transparent and dependable judicial system while fulfilling her birth-given title and bringing forth prosperity. As the first African-American woman to foster the priority of non-violent offender opportunities, Fani’s election is a historical feat for Fulton County, Georgia.

  

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About the Author
Ashtin is an American freelance writer and aspiring editor. She is a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English and is currently studying editing at the University of Chicago. Alongside her freelance work, Ashtin pursues the hobby of creative writing. She has a regular yoga practice, a deep love for mystery novels, and a fascination for all things true crime.

3 Comments

  • comment-avatar

    Congrats to Madam DA Willis on your election. Also congrats to the voters who elected Madam DA Willis as the first woman to hold that position and as the first woman of color.
    And beautiful as well.

  • comment-avatar

    Cathy

    I truly believe that Madam DA Willis will provide the citizens of Fulton County with integrity, loyalty and professional that only she can give. It not every day that you have a black female who have more than enough qualifications to serve as she have in her career. She is the right person for the right time. Congratulations! You are the best !

  • comment-avatar

    Michelle Hensfield

    This article made me realize that I voted for the right person. I look forward to the change you will bring.