Senator Arthenia Joyner has spent her life standing up for what she believes and paving the way for others. Born in Lakeland, she grew up in a time of segregation and has always been active in civil rights issues.
“I live by the Bible quote from the book of Luke, ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’” Joyner said. “My father owned a successful business on Central Avenue, and he always told us, as we were growing up, that God had been good to us and that he expected us to give back – that we had an obligation to do so. I’ve loved being in the Florida legislature and being an advocate for women, minorities, struggling families and the underserved, as well as working to reform the criminal justice system.”
Joyner, who is returning to private practice after 16 years in the legislature, was the first African American female lawyer in Hillsborough County. When she graduated from Florida A&M University’s College of Law she could not find anyone in the legal profession willing to hire an African American woman, so she opened her own practice. “In 2019 I will have been practicing law for 50 years, Joyner said. “Right now I am the longest-practicing black female attorney in Florida. I intend to continue my work as an attorney, and within my community, and to serve in private life with the same passion and dedication that I committed to public service.”
Arthenia Joyner Q&A
Who do you admire most in this community?
Pat Frank. She is a walking history of Hillsborough County. She has held 5 elective offices and is now clerk of the circuit court. Her office collects millions of dollars in fines but has faced budget cuts every year. However, she runs a very efficient office and has not had to lay off anyone throughout the years of financial crisis. She has more wisdom and energy than many people half her age and has been a wonderful role model to me and many other women. She has given a lot to the county and still has much to contribute.
Do you have any words of advice for younger generations?
I tell younger people, “your word is your bond,” and “to let your words speak for you.” You don’t have to follow the crowd to be successful but you do have to stand up for what you believe in – even if you have to stand-alone.
When I was 26 years old, my father took me to the bank and asked them to loan me $1,000 to start my own law firm because no law firm would hire a black female lawyer. He did not co-sign the loan because he wanted me to establish my independence, as well as my own credit, and I did. When I talk to young people, I stress the importance of establishing good credit. If you sign an agreement to pay for something, you need to make sure you make your payments on time. Like a bad reputation, a bad credit score is hard to shake once you’ve got it.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
It has been an honor and a privilege to be recognized by my peers and residents in my community. First by my legal peers when they elected me as the second woman president of the National Bar Association and then later when my Democratic colleagues in the Senate elected me as the first black woman leader of the Democratic Caucus.
Having been elected to the legislature in 2000 has been my greatest joy. And I’m grateful to know that citizens in the community thought me worthy to speak up for them, stand up for them, and fight for them.
Do you have a favorite charity?
I am very proud of the work I’ve done with Computer Mentors in Hillsborough County. They provide education and employment opportunities for at risk youth who do not have easy access to technology and computers. They are helping to bridge the digital divide and creating an atmosphere where children are able to make a difference in their own lives and are preparing them to join the workforce in the future.
On a more personal note, my alma mater, Florida A&M University has set up a scholarship in my honor and I will be working on its endowment.