Long before women gained the right to vote, more than 140 years ago, Charlotte Ray became the first black female lawyer. She's a woman of influence who used her smarts to beat the odds. Ray was more than creative. During those times, most law schools were reluctant to accept women so instead of using her full name when she applied for admission, she signed her name as C.E. Ray. Howard University's School of Law admitted her and she graduated with a law degree. Her determination still inspires Chief Judge Tammy Stokes who dreamed of becoming a TV News Anchor, but found her best stories behind the bench. She too is a woman of influence.
As a student at the University of Georgia, Judge Tammy Stokes decided against journalism and majored in psychology, but volunteering to read to a blind law student, completely changed her life. "As so often what happens when you get exposed to other people and what they're doing, we become more interested. You ask questions about why they chose law school? Instead of studying in the regular library, I was in the law library and I slowly found my interest changing. That was a life changer for me," explained Chief Judge Tammy Stokes.
The rest as they say is history. She worked as an attorney in Atlanta and D.C. as a federal prosecutor before returning home to Savannah. "I just had an urge to come back home and it was the best urge that I ever listened to," said Judge Stokes.
Just last March, she was sworn in as Chatham County's Chief Recorder's Court Judge. "I think the most important thing that I bring to the bench is a balanced perspective. I've had a wide range of experience. I think I am a fair person. I like people. I like to hear really hear what's involved in a case and then try to bring my best judgment to that and then make the right decision," added Judge Stokes.
Making decisions under fire, just like Charlotte Ray did more than 140 years ago when she became the first woman of any race to practice law in Washington, D.C. and argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, Judge Stokes says those achievements encourage her today. "When times are tough it makes you realize that you can do it. There are people would've gone through so much more have had such great odds. When I think about the problems and challenges that I have, they pale in comparison and it makes you just want to pick up and keep going just push right on through," said Judge Stokes.
Her success is proof of that unstoppable attitude. Judge Stokes was selected as one of Savannah Business Journal's 40 under 40 top business achievers in 2000 and continues to work hard in the community with several organizations including the United Way, Leadership Savannah, the Junior League just to name a few. Community service is a very big part of her life. "I've been given so much from so many different people I've had so many people who have cared for me nurtured me directed me guided me and you just want to get some of that back we all have so much to give and I always say if we all just give a little just a little bit of a world beyond much better place."
Judge Stokes also says the most rewarding part of her job is believing that she is making a positive impact on people's lives- hopefully making tough situations better.
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