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Women Uplifting Women

#SoFu Lifestyle Celebrates Community #ChangeMAYkers

Article by Becca McCoy

Photography by Becca McCoy

Originally published in SOFU Lifestyle

There is something truly special about sharing a meal.  We slow down, we’re present, and we connect in a way that is unique to the communal dining experience.  So many of our fondest memories include food: family celebrations, holiday meals, church potlucks, that restaurant you were told not to miss.  So, when we at SoFu Lifestyle wanted to interview some of the women changemakers of the community, we invited them to lunch at Baltimore Crab and Seafood, where owner Shema Fulton has served up memorable recipes on Fairburn Road for over a decade.

When Fulton moved to the Cascade area, she was already a successful restauranteur in Philadelphia who’d spent years in the Washington, D.C. area as well.  She comes from “a family who can cook,” she told us, and proceeded to prove it with every dish that came to the table.  The catfish strips and lump crab cakes were perfectly seasoned and lightly fried.  The flavors and textures of the broiled salmon, lobster and shrimp fried rice, and sweet potato corn muffins elevated those dishes well beyond expectations.  And when you go, save room for the signature banana pudding – it’s outstanding.      

The conversation that flowed over cocktails and popular dishes was joyous, unfiltered, and uplifting. Fulton and SoFu Lifestyle editor Erikka Searles Mitchell were joined by Mercedes Miller, Executive Director of the Georgia International Convention Center, and Jolene Butts Freeman, an Emmy-Award-winning television reporter now serving as Associate Vice President of Communications and Media for Clark Atlanta University.  These community luminaries immediately found commonalities and comradery, and ways to encourage and support one another. 

“I gotta tell you, I am so impressed by you.  And we just met.  You obviously think big,” Butts Freeman said to  Fulton after hearing about the latter’s journey from working for the FBI to doing a million dollars in business in her first restaurant’s first year. 

During their shared meal and open conversation, the women bonded over motherhood, relationships, success in business, generational observations, influential women, and spirituality.  Here are some highlights:

What is a fond food memory growing up in Atlanta?

JOLENE BUTTS FREEMAN: “We have such memories!  You know before it was Macy’s it was Rich’s.  And you could get the best brownies ever from Rich’s Bakery.  The Rich’s Bakery puts any other to shame.”

MERCEDES MILLER: “I remember 6th grade, eating down at the Rich’s Bakery downtown – they used to have a tearoom, so you could go down and have lunch and tea and my mom took me down there when I graduated from 6th grade.”

JOLENE BUTTS FREEMAN: “And you were doin’ somethin’ – when you could go and shop and afford the clothes at Rich’s and have lunch in the tearoom.”  

Who are some other women who’ve inspired you?

JOLENE BUTTS FREEMAN: “I think the biggest inspiration to me was my mom.  My momma had a big heart – very loving, very giving.  She had a good, sweet spirit… until you pushed her.  And professionally, I would say my TV girls:  Monica Kaufman Pearson, Aungelique Proctor, Jaque Reid, and Shaunya Chavis.  I wrote Monica when I was 12 years old because I knew I wanted to be a TV reporter.  You know she wrote me back?  She wrote me back.  I told her I wanted to be a TV reporter and from that moment on I would call and check in and she always took my calls.  And we would talk, and I would tell her where I was and what I was doing and she would support me, ‘Jolene, you can do it.’”    

MERCEDES MILLER: “I have strong women in my life.  My mother and my grandmother.  They instilled in me that you don’t need anybody. You can make it on your own.  My mother was hard-working.  She was.  My family was the first generation to get out.  So, when my mother got out, she wanted me to go first.  My mother always made me feel like there was no limit to what I can do.  I could do anything.” 

How did you integrate motherhood with your professional success?

JOLENE BUTTS FREEMAN: “A good mother tunes in to her children.  Make them a part of your community work.  It gives them an opportunity - you teach them early the importance of giving back.  Whether it’s through community service, whether it’s meeting folks in the community – and we need to do that as African Americans, Black women – we need to do that.”

MERCEDES MILLER: “I did that – I work in hospitality, and if I was out, I took him with me.  So, he’s grown up in the hospitality industry.  You tend to bring up only children like a little adult.  The greatest thing you can give them is exposure and experience.  I had to travel for business and there was never a trip that I would not take him on, because I wanted him to see what I saw.”       

What earned wisdom would you tell your 16-year-old self?

MERCEDES MILLER: “I would tell my sixteen-year-old self that I am enough – because at that time, I didn’t realize all the things I brought to the table, and I didn’t know my own value.  At this age, and looking back, I would tell her she’s enough – ‘You have a great future ahead of you.’”

JOLENE BUTTS FREEMAN: “I was doing it all at sixteen – I’m not so sure I would do anything different.  I was confident… I knew at sixteen what I wanted to do with my career, and with God’s help, of course, I reached all my goals.  The only thing I think I might have wanted to work on is to tap into my femininity a little bit more.” 

SHEMA FULTON: “I should have embraced my childhood more.  I was always looking for ways to make money, wanting to get a job at fourteen, working.  I think it’s something I missed out on: the social aspects of growing up.  I think I should have been more open to relationships, friendships.”

All three women currently occupy positions of leadership, and how they approach their role of mentor to today’s young people beautifully coincided with the wisdom they’d impart to themselves.   Fulton values having opportunities to give to others, but with the reminder that “They have to want it.”   Butts Freeman knows the power of self-confidence: “Find a way or make one.  Figure it out.”  And Miller centers her mentorship on the fact that “Nobody gave up on me.”

Shema Fulton, Jolene Butts Freeman, and Mercedes Miller are forces for good in the SoFu community thanks to their talent, tenacity, and faith.  But it is their generosity of spirit that is truly inspirational.  This lunchtime conversation was a powerful reminder that when you gather with loved ones to share food, and to listen and be heard, it is wholly nourishing.  

Our thanks to Shema Fulton for hosting this special interview.Baltimore Crab and Seafood is located at 1075 Fairburn Road SW, Atlanta.  Visit baltimorecrabandseafood.com for hours and menu.

  • Jolene Butts Freeman
  • Mercedes Miller
  • Shema Fulton