Sitting on her couch in her modest east Marietta home with a glowing smile and her hands folded across her legs, 64-year-old Jerita Hall serves as a reminder that even successful people are still simply people. She displays none of the confident posturing or swagger typical of some movers and shakers, yet Hall is undoubtedly an accomplished person.
Her path to that success is part of what makes her an enduring spirit and an inspiring individual, and led her to graduate law school in May after years of putting all five of her children through college as a single mother.
Growing up in the late 1960s, Hall reflected that, “girls were expected to graduate high school, go to college, get married, and have a family. So I followed that model.”
After graduating from a small boarding school, she attended Mercer University, receiving her bachelor’s degree in History and Politcal Science 1973. Hall then began a career as an independent educational consultant, assisting high school students through the sometimes overwhelming college admissions process.
Hall’s approach to elevating her students through such a difficult endeavor was to focus on them as individuals. “I would talk to the students about interview techniques, get a feel for who (their) parents were, who the child was, and what schools would be a good match for them.”
Despite her fulfilling work in education, Hall always held onto her dream of becoming a lawyer. This dream was inspired by Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American federal judge, whom she learned of in high school. Her daughter, Lori, recalled discovering that dream written out in the back of her mother’s senior yearbook. “Under ‘Future Career’ she had written ‘lawyer in the industry,’” Lori said. However, that dream would remain one deferred as her family grew.
As a mother of five, Hall was forced to set aside her law school pursuits and raise her children. Following a divorce in 1993, Hall found herself a single mother of five. Hall made a solemn vow to herself then that she would see all of her children — three sons and two daughters — graduate college themselves before she allowed herself to return to academia.
“If any one of them fell off the beaten path, I was going to blame me,” Hall said, with palpable severity in her voice. “I said, ‘I can do this. I can take care of my children first’ and I put all of my stuff on hold.” Rather than succumbing to the pressures and the stresses such a demanding burden could bring, Hall remained resolute. She told her children, “We lost a member of the family, but we can’t crash.” Determined and steadfast, Jerita made it her mission to instill each of her five children with the same values provided to her by her own parents and upbringing.
Her son, Jason, a former college and pro-level football player and now owner of the Marietta gym Kettle Corps, spoke of his mother’s stubborn determination as he bounced his young daughter on his knee. He recalled that, when he was a teenager hunting for a part-time job, his mother thought he should take up golf caddying due his love of the sport. So she took him to a country club, where they were immediately turned away because of Jason’s youth.
“I gave up and went outside, but she stayed in there talking to the manager, for what seemed like an hour. She just wouldn’t leave! After a while, she came out, and said, ‘Well, you start on Monday!’ And that was it,” he said, as Hall howled with laughter beside him. Jason mused that his mother “never accepts the word ‘no’,” and that, when faced with a roadblock, she simply reframes her argument until the answer becomes a “yes.”
In addition to her refusal to back down from an obstacle, Lori ruminated on her mother’s unwavering compassion and love of family as another one of her strengths. After receiving one of her first paychecks from a summer job, Lori begged her mother to take her to Wendy’s for a hamburger. With the money burning a hole in her pocket, Lori ordered what she wanted, but was quickly met with a stern yet loving question from her mother.
“What are you going to get for your brothers and sisters?” Hall had asked her.
Lori said she learned then just how deeply committed to closeness her mother was, and said she and the rest of her siblings still hold tightly to one another because of those lessons of loyalty that they were taught as kids. Hall knew that keeping her family together and strong would guide them through the even the bleakest of times.
As if the day-to-day difficulties of raising five children weren’t hard enough, 15 years ago, Jerita was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. Even when faced with such a grim malady, Hall’s focus fell to her children first.
“Two of my kids were graduating college at the time, and one of them was graduating high school, so I asked the doctors if I could wait to have surgery until afterward. And he said, ‘yes’,” she explained.
Hall then underwent the prescribed surgical procedures and chemotherapy treatments, in addition to a holistic overhaul of her diet. Miraculously, Hall’s cancer went into remission several months later.
Ever since, Hall has continued her dietary habits, engaging in portion control and trading red meats for the leaner set. “
She eats like a bird now,” Lori remarked. One might think after a trial such as cancer can be, Hall had earned her right to sit down, relax and enjoy life rather continue to struggle. But, as Jason described, “this woman has zero quit.”
After all five children had graduated college, Jerita put herself back on the path of pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer. In 2011, Hall received her master’s in counseling from Argosy University. Last month, she graduated from John Marshall Law in Atlanta, which she celebrated surrounded by her family and her children. As a token of their unending gratitude and love of their mother, Lori and her siblings surprised Hall with a gift: her dream car, a Mercedes-Benz C300.
Lori was able to get great deal on the car from Malone’s Automotive in Marietta, but had to hide it from her mother for two months before Hall’s graduation. On the big day, all of the siblings gathered outside for a “photo” and Lori tossed Hall the keys after asking if she “liked baseball.” Video of that moment has gone viral on social media and helped to shine a spotlight on Hall’s story. Now, with law school under her belt, Hall has her sights set on passing the bar and heading her own law firm.
“I want to serve underserved populations. There is a grave underservice in smaller towns,” Hall said of the direction she wants to drive her future legal practice. Currently, Hall interns with Malone Law in Atlanta, headed by father-son attorneys Tommy and Adam Malone, whom she credits with shepherding her through what can still sometimes be a difficult landscape. In addition to stepping into the practice at a much later age than most, Hall joins a practice where, according to the American Bar Association, 88 percent of lawyers are white and only 4.8 percent are black.
“The state of race relations was challenging during my formative years, as it still is, but I grew up in a family that stressed overcoming obstacles and not letting barriers stop your dreams,” she said. And it would seem that these same principles built the sort of indomitable spirit which carried Hall not only through her own difficult battles, but fostered the boundless character of her five children, whom she called her biggest champions and supporters.
But, as the idiom goes, “a woman’s work is never done.” Even with a full professional plate, Hall said she will also be working on a book about her life or, as she put it, “going through the struggle.” There is little doubt the book will be brimming with the same inspiration, wisdom, and accomplishment as its author.