Photography by Danny Fulgencio
Neighbor Jill Louis recalls when North Central Expressway was a four-lane blacktop. She grew up in our neighborhood’s Midway Hills and attended St. Rita Catholic School. Her father is a physician, and her mother’s a journalist. Louis left Dallas for Howard University, starting her own path to journalism before deciding to attend Harvard Law School. Louis moved to Oak Cliff after marrying her husband, Randy Bowman, 27 years ago. She eventually found her way back to Preston Hollow in 2004. Comfort food for her is a TJ’s Seafood Market salmon burger and truffle fries, and her family frequented Fish City Grill before the tornado. Daughter Rachel loves the cookies from Celebrity Bakery. Louis, a corporate lawyer and partner at Perkins Coie LLP, serves on the board of trustees at Howard University and on the executive committees of KERA and the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
Why did you decide to move to Preston Hollow?
We just loved the trees and the expansiveness of it. It felt pastoral while being in the heart of the city, and it was very important to us to truly live in Dallas and be part of the city. It’s a very vibrant community in that way.
Why did you end up going to law school?
I was a journalism major undergrad at Howard University. Then the Christine Craft litigation happened when she was terminated and she sued for age discrimination. [In the 1980s, Craft alleged she was removed from her Kansas City TV anchor position for being “too old, too unattractive and wouldn’t defer to men.” She sued and won, but the verdict was overturned twice.] My takeaway from that was that somehow female journalists were being devalued as they aged. I want to be in a profession where my value increases as I age. I had to sort of reset my thoughts on what am I good at?
How did you end up in corporate law?
I wanted to understand business. I felt that as an African American, there were so many excellent litigators, civil rights lawyers, but that we did not have many who were in the transactional space. It was important to me to learn about how business worked and to be able to bring that back to my community and to benefit my community by my knowledge of business.
How did you turn that interest into community involvement?
Community involvement is just where my heart is really. I remember when I was in middle school at St. Rita and visiting a nursing home. I ended up being responsible for feeding this one woman. As I was feeding her, I learned that she was actually my classmate’s grandmother. I remember the good feeling that I had from being of service to her. When I went to Howard, it was further instilled. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s motto is service to all mankind. It is just something that has always been a part of my life. If I’m able to achieve anything, it’s because I’m supposed to pour something back into my community. It’s how I was raised. It’s my orientation.
Why did you start working with KERA?
KERA is really a labor of love. My mother, Marjorie Louis, was on Newsroom [a 30-minute news program that premiered on KERA in 1970.] She’s the first African American female to be on television in Dallas. She covered education, civil rights and healthcare. It was an opportunity to carry her legacy forward in what is a very important resource.
What about the AT&T Performing Arts Center?
I love the arts. But even more importantly, I credit the arts with my daughter’s success in life. My daughter had a speech delay. I put her in theater because I wanted her to have reason to talk and learn to present. It was a phenomenal experience. She’s now a senior theater major at Austin College. The arts have the ability not just to entertain, but to educate, to build bridges to help with human development.
“If I’m able to achieve anything it’s because I’m supposed to pour something back into my community. It’s how I was raised. It’s my orientation.”
And your family’s new project?
The largest project that my family is involved in is the launch of At Last, which is an urban boarding experience for children in poverty. We’ve gotten a lot of great support from the major foundations here in Dallas. It’s vital to this community to pull out of poverty. My husband grew up in Pleasant Grove, and he understood that education was his way. He was a little bit of a lightning-in-the-bottle strike. He doesn’t want everybody to have to be that lucky.
At Last is your current family’s project. What’s next for you?
Oh, more. My other project that I’m working on is with my law firm. We have a pro bono project where we’re representing Mothers of Black Boys United. That was started in response to the murders of Philando Castile and Trayvon Martin. We are doing research to show their disparate impact on communities of color. Part of what’s happening when you see these verdicts that no one understands and that set our cities literally ablaze is the law that underpins all of this. That’s a direct outgrowth of systemic racism. If we are able to combat that at the policy level, it’s like trying to combat a disease at the cellular level.
How has Alpha Kappa Alpha Impacted you?
My initiation into Alpha Kappa taught me how to really balance my time. I’m a full-time lawyer. I raised two children, When I had a newborn, I never took maternity leave from the Junior League of Dallas. I continued to fulfill my service requirements while being a junior associate at a major law firm. I credit that with my sorority training. You’ve got to find a way to get it done.
And you know Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris?
She’s a sorority sister. She was just Kamala Harris when we were joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at Howard.
How has the relationship sustained over the years?
The thing about our group of line sisters is that we are very close. We understand the bonds and the benefits of sisterhood. We’ve gotten married, we’ve raised children, we’ve grown in our careers, and through it all, we’ve stayed connected. We’re coming up on 35 years. We know that we can always call on each other. When she decided that she was going to run for president, she called me before she announced, and she said, “I’m going to run for president. And I want you with me.”
Depending on what happens in November, do you want to be involved in politics on a national level?
I am a Texan, and I’m planning to be here in Texas. I will be very honored to be able to support the work that our country will have to do to recover from this health crisis of COVID, to recover from the economic crisis and actual change in policy with respect to racial justice. This is my little home office, very well-placed right here in Preston Hollow, to serve our nation because it will take people doing this across the nation and in all of their neighborhoods to really make the difference.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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