Faith Jenkins once found herself being judged in a beauty pageant. But now she serves as the judge for one of TV’s top-rated court room shows. Within a decade, Jenkins went from swimsuits and diamond-encrusted crowns to a gavel and a bench. Beyond Black girl magic, that’s the definition of Black girl power.
Days before the premiere of the third season of her show, “Judge Faith,” Jenkins visited rolling out studio during a press tour in Atlanta. She maintains the radiant smile and charm that were signatures during her run as Miss Louisiana. “When I was at Louisiana Tech, I was walking on campus as an orientation student leader and there was a pageant on campus that summer,” Jenkins recalled about the first time she encountered the idea of participating in beauty pageants. “Someone came up to me and said, ‘You should compete in pageants.’ I had never done pageants before, but I thought it would be a good gig to have. The night I won Ms. Louisiana Tech, it represented a pivotal moment in my life. I was the first African American to win the title of Ms. Louisiana Tech at that school. I had to step outside of the box, and do something bigger than myself. I believed in myself and I worked hard.”
That same hard work led to her winning first runner-up at the Miss America 2001 competition. But while most of the nation first recognized her for her success competing in beauty pageants, she’s also focused and astute when it comes to delving into matters of law and justice. She ranked at the top of her class while attending Southern University Law Center and eventually became an assistant district attorney at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in New York.
Jenkins soon became a top legal analyst on political-based shows such as “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity” and “Lou Dobbs.”
“It never crossed my mind to have my own TV show,” she shared. “Hank Cowen, CEO of Trifecta Media Company, contacted me after he saw me one night with Al Sharpton on MSNBC and the next night with Bill O’Reilly on FOX News and he thought, ‘If she can handle both of those audiences then she can handle daytime TV.’ ”
“Judge Faith” brings a youthful voice to Court TV.
“It feels amazing to be in the third season of the show,” she said. “I expected it to be successful because I have to believe in the success of the show. It’s a celebration, because it is challenging to get daytime TV show on the air. The ratings show that people enjoy it. They send us letters and write to us on social media. I get a lot of messages from young African American women, which is inspiring me because I didn’t have anyone to look up to on TV, as far as a lawyer, a judge or a professional woman.”
On the week of Jenkins’ press tour in Atlanta, the police killings of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, made national headlines. It proved, again, how there are issues when it comes to police relations in the Black community. During her tenure as assistant D.A. in Manhattan, Eric Garner was killed by New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantelo, who choked Garner for selling loose cigarettes. Pantelo was not indicted by a grand jury and made over $100K in 2016 while working for the NYPD.
“Grand juries are secret proceedings, so we don’t know what happened,” she said about the Garner case. “I know that the officer in that case testified before the grand jury. Eric Garner wasn’t there to testify because he lost his life. I’m sure the video was played. The Department of Justice is currently investigating that case and there may be a different outcome. Based on the video, my professional opinion is that there should have been an indictment.”
Jenkins believes that police officers often get away with murder because of the public’s perception of their position. “If you look at our history, it’s difficult to convict cops in general,” she said. “People want to have this inherent belief that officers want to do the right thing. Most police do, but just like in every profession, there will always be bad apples. It used to be a citizen’s word against an officer, but now we have tape. Despite video evidence, officers still aren’t being indicted. There is video evidence of a very aggressive police officer overtaking this man on the sidewalk, who was selling loose cigarettes. He lost his life because they acted like they were taking down Frank Lucas. When you make a mistake, and your training shows that you should not be making mistakes, you have to be held accountable. As citizens, we are held accountable, especially in Black America. There has to be accountability in these cases to send a message that you can’t abuse your authority and expect a free pass. It is hard to prosecute police officers, but when someone’s life is taken, they should be held accountable.”
The law should always be used to provide justice for all. While serving as judge, Judge Faith Jenkins makes sure that her decisions are always accurate and fair. Even through difficult times, she knows there’s always a silver lining. You don’t go from Shreveport, Louisiana to the Miss America pageant to being behind the bench without believing in the possibility of hope.
“Everyone deals with stress and we all handle it different ways,” she shared. “I would rather be busy than bored. I love my work and my life. It’s good stress. Every day, I wake up grateful and thankful. We all should. If you are alive and you have your health, that in and of itself is wealth. I had two friends die from cancer last year. For the first time in my life, one of my peers had passed away. It really made me appreciate what I have. We all get stressed but I call it good stress because I am so grateful for what I get to do every day of my life.”
Story by A.R. Shaw
Images by Trifecta Entertainment