By: N.L. Preston
HOUSTON — “Never let anyone steal your peace, and never let anyone take your peace and turn it into pieces,” is the advice Judge Elaine Marshall‘s aunt once gave her. Today, with the city of Houston filled with panicked residents – some cautiously locked away in their homes while others disregard health warnings – those words of wisdom seem to be a message that needs sharing.
“I think that is what is happening now. We are getting away from knowing who really sustains us, and so all of this is taking our inner peace and turning us into pieces,” she said.
Marshall may be on to something.
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has many of us on edge. But ultimately, it begins with each individual and their mindset and, more so, how they stand in the face of adversity; something Marshall will not let slow her down.
She spoke candidly with African-American News&Issues about her upbringing, her career and life’s highlights, opening up first about the fear she felt as a young adult preparing to head off to the University of Notre Dame, where there weren’t many who looked like her, in addition to it being her first time away from her family.
“My grandmother looked me in the face and said ‘What you are is God’s gift to you and what you make of yourself is your gift to God, and so when you go up there, you learn everything you can so you can give God his greatest gift,'” Marshall recalled.
That loving statement carried her through, and Marshall went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree from Notre Dame in Psychology, followed by a Juris Doctorate from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas.
She moved to Houston in the 1980’s, and has a loving husband, Stephen Augustine, a daughter, Janikka, and two stepchildren, Takia and Steven.
Marshall’s career is something many would marvel at. The ‘military baby’ who grew up in San Antonio has served the City of Houston since 1987, first as a full-time judge, then as an administrative judge, and next as an associate presiding judge. A career highlight for Marshall is her revision of the Teen Court Program, which when started had only 15 members, but over time grew to nearly 100 participating students. Marshall was also an assistant district attorney for Harris County for eight years and assisted in developing the office’s child abuse section.
On December 7, 2016, Marshall was appointed to serve as director and presiding judge for the Municipal Courts Department by Mayor Sylvester Turner.
As a judge, two things have brought her extra joy. One in particular was seeing the recent historic appointment of social media’s “Black Girl Magic’ judges, also known as the “Houston 19.”
“I am all for us being visible as women and was excited to see everybody get out and vote,” she said, adding this advice. “Now that you’re on the bench, you need to show them what you can do. For us, as black women, we have to take that step a little bit further because everybody is going to question what we know, so we have to stay on top of our game.”
Marshall was also an adjunct professor for seven years at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
“That was remarkable. For me, teaching was my way of giving back,” she said.
Now for the top of her list, her greatest joy professionally had a personal touch. It was the day she hooded and swore in her daughter. Janikka Bratton is currently a senior associate attorney at Kubosh Law.
Marshall said she hopes the values that have been lovingly poured into her, she adequately passes along to others.
“I want to instill them in my children, my students and I hope I instill them in my staff and employees because I’m walking right beside them,” she said. “Every day I want them to know that, He [God] may have opened a different door for me than for others, but it still doesn’t make me any better. We are all in this together.”