The Atlanta Business League presented this year’s Lottie H. Watkins Female First Award to District Attorney Fani Willis on Tuesday afternoon, an award named after the trailblazing real estate icon known for becoming the first Black woman to earn and hold a broker license in the city.
Members of the organization convened inside the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in downtown to host their 39th Annual Super Tuesday Conference, a day-long event featuring informational panels and networking opportunities for Black business owners and company leadership.
Nine female business leaders were also recognized for their entrepreneurial accolades at this year’s luncheon, among whom Heather Fatzinger was named Woman of the Year — founder, president and CEO of Full Circle Communications.
Willis, who propelled to international renown following her grand jury indictment of former President Donald Trump and 18 others for attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, said she was honored to be selected as this year’s award recipient and credited Lottie H. Watkins for helping pave the way for Black women like her to take on leadership roles in the city.
“(Watkins is) really the only reason that I get to sit here today, and that’s not lost on me. Not just being African American, but being a woman in what’s been, for so long, a male-dominated field,” Willis said. “I always say that’s just my extra blessing, getting to be an African American woman to sit in this seat.”
Willis is the first African American and the first woman elected to serve as Fulton County’s district attorney.
In remarks, Willis credited her work ethic and interest in law to her father, who gained custody and raised her as a child following her parents’ divorce. She said she aimed to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a defense attorney but found a pathway to prosecution that ultimately led to her securing a win in Fulton County’s district attorney runoff in 2020.
“From the time I was eight, I knew I wanted to be an attorney and was raised to be a leader,” Willis said. “So, those things naturally come together.”
News of the indictment has placed more eyes on Willis’s career and personal life than ever before, a change that she said has been difficult to adjust to. Despite her and members of her family facing criticism and racial epithets from opposing parties, Willis said she intends to follow standard legal procedure and see the case through until its end.
“We made our decision based on the statutes and based on what the facts are, so there’s been no stress doing that,” Willis said. “I’m going to follow that course of just continuing to make decisions based on the facts and the law.”
Willis also credits her faith in her rise to becoming the county’s highest-ranking prosecutor, saying the district attorney position is a calling that will only be fulfilled so long as she maintains fairness and morality in her decisions. When asked about her legacy, Willis said she wants to be remembered as a district attorney who stood for integrity.
“The first time (constituents) need to see us is when we’re out in the community doing service so that they know that we care,” Willis said. “It doesn’t matter for me if you’re in South Fulton in poverty, or in North Fulton and rich, or the opposite. We’ve got to make sure that everyone is treated with dignity.”