was success to me.
That’s not to say that I don’t like to make an income from some of my stuff. But that was never the sole purpose, to be famous or be so-called wealthy. All that stuff is a by product.
I was not self-guided. Anytime I came to two forks in the road, people or events or spirits or forces pointed me in the right direction. Whenever I could have gone this way or that way, I always managed somehow to get pushed, prodded, or pulled the right way.
So you have to have people you respect and listen to. But it’s important who you listen to. I don’t listen to the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences]. I listen to people I trust and work with, and Tonya. She’s very smart and very sensitive. Those are the qualities I admire in people, but I put a premium on intelligence. She’s the first one who reads, as soon as I finish a script. Whenever I’m thinking about doing something, she’s the first one I tell. Everybody has peers and people they respect. You have to listen to those people, not to the hype and not to the people who just don’t know.
ELAINE R. JONES
FORMER PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR-COUNSEL
NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND INC.
I knew from the age of 8 or so that I wanted to be a lawyer. There was so much wrong in the world. I mean, we were sitting in the back of the bus, going to segregated schools, living a life mapped out by signs that said “colored only.” Little girl that I was, in my community I would see the policemen come down the street. They were all white, with big guns. And the community would quiver and shake: Cop on the block. Folks would go down to the precinct, and you’d never hear from them again. All of this you were taking in, and if you’re not going to feel powerless in the face of it, you’re going to say to yourself, “What can I do to change this?” My thought was, I can’t do anything now. But I can prepare myself so I can be a player and make a difference later.
My father was a railroad man and he had a little landscape gardening business on the side and a lot of his clients were lawyers—all white. He wouldn’t call their names, but he’d talk about “Lawyer this, lawyer that.” I heard that, and I saw all the wrong in our world and I thought lawyers were supposed to right the wrong. So I had to be a lawyer.
I know my parents said to themselves, “Elaine will never be a lawyer.” But they never said it to me. When people would say, “Well, what do you want to do when you grow up?” I’d say, “I want to be a l
awyer.” They’d pat me on the head, a little condescending pat, you know. My parents, standing there, would always say, “Well, be whatever