From Louisiana beauty queen to first runner-up Miss America 2001 to a Wall Street Attorney to a New York City prosecutor, Judge Faith Jenkins has traveled many walks of life while fighting adversity.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff held an annual Women’s History Month Celebration Tuesday with Jenkins as the keynote speaker. Presented by the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership, the event was held in the J.M. Ross Auditorium of the Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Building.
Jenkins graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Louisiana Tech University and a J.D. from Southern University’s law school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ranking number one in her law class.
She is currently in her fourth season of “Judge Faith,” which is a nationally syndicated, arbitration based court show that debuted Sept. 22, 2014. She is now the judge in her own courtroom, ruling on small claims cases from landlord-tenant disputes to social media scuffles. She is also a preeminent legal analyst for the cable news channel MSNBC.
During her UAPB speech, Jenkins touched on many topics, including her first time facing disappointment.
It came while working as an assistant in the dorms of Louisiana Tech when an opportunity was presented for her to apply for a promotion that would resolve some of her financial issues.
She was highly qualified for the promotion and knew without a doubt she would get it, but it was given to someone less qualified than Jenkins. Out of frustration and disappointment, she quit her job, soon landing an opportunity to compete in the Miss Louisiana Tech Pageant. She had never competed in a pageant, and many believed there was no way she could win.
“There is something special about making the choice to believe in yourself when no one else does,” Jenkins said.
Despite all odds, she won the pageant, becoming the first African-American to hold the title of Miss Louisiana Tech University, which led to bigger opportunities, including Miss Louisiana 2000 and Miss America 2001. She also gained what she needed to resolve her financial issues and more.
Jenkins contributed the experience to not getting the promotion at her previous job.
“When you’re going through this journey in life, you have to know and understand that not every closed door is a bad thing,” Jenkins said. “Some of your greatest successes will come after your greatest disappointments.”
After expressing her love for traveling the world to talk to students, Jenkins used a quote from civil rights activist, poet, and author Maya Angelou to describe her experience at her first job after college at Sidley Austin in New York City, one of the most prestigious law firms in the country.
“No matter where you come from, no matter what circumstances you face, no matter how difficult life seems, no matter how alone you may feel sometimes on your journey, I want to remind you of one thing that I have carried with me throughout my life. You may come as one, but you stand on the shoulders of thousands,” Jenkins said, quoting from Angelou’s poem titled “Our Grandmothers.”
Jenkins described how she was the only African-American in a law firm of over 500 attorneys in New York City and the adversities she overcame during her tenure there. Being a former beauty queen, she felt confident and unbothered by the things she faced.
Jenkins told UAPB students about the sacrifices that many have made so that they can receive an education and go out into the world to make it a better place.
“We need you to work hard, get your education, be smart, and make great decisions, because we need you to make this world a better place,” she said.
Throughout her speech, Jenkins quoted many women of yesterday and today who have paved the way for women to be great. She also encouraged students to step out of their comfort zone.
“Sometimes we pray for God to change our situations not knowing he put us in those situations to change us, to shape us, to grow us, to force us out of our comfort zones,” Jenkins said. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable, because that’s what your journey should really be like.”
Jenkins closed her speech by encouraging students to continue to learn and grow and also reminding them that, “no matter where you go, they’re going to have to put some respect on your name, not because of who you are, but because of whose you are.”
The National Women’s History Project states that in 1987 the US Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month. This creates a special opportunity in our schools, our workplaces, and our communities to recognize and celebrate the often-overlooked achievements of American women. Each year there is a special Theme and women whose lives exemplify that theme are selected as National Honorees. The 2018 theme is: NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.