Melvenna Fant-Jones (left) served as chair of the State Bar of Michigan Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section for 2016-2017, and is pictured here with the then-outgoing chair Denise Gau.
Photo courtesy of Melvenna Fant-Jones
By Sheila Pursglove
After graduating from Northern High School in Detroit—and five months pregnant—Melvenna Fant-Jones launched immediately into the Wayne State Project 360 Program.
“I loved college so much,” she says. “I loved living in my apartment on campus, my full talent scholarship for Debate, and I especially loved debating every weekend against different colleges and traveling by bus or plane. My debate family was—and still is—everything to me. They never judged me, they helped me, and they were my first opening into a different life.”
Then life threw her a curveball, when a domestic violence situation forced her to leave college and live in a women’s shelter with her son.
Getting back on her feet, she returned to WSU—only to leave again when Michigan Works determined Wayne State to not be a part of the program, and that in order to keep her state assistance of food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare, she would have to leave.
A social worker at the shelter then introduced her to the Academy of Court Reporting in Clawson. After witnessing many family members and friends over the years die from domestic violence, abuse, drugs, and suicide, the legal field appealed to Fant-Jones as a way to help herself and help those around her.
“I felt like a career in the legal field would change everything for my family and me,” she says. “I felt like it would create hope.”
After three years of studies and graduating with the highest honors in the top 5 percent of her class, Fant-Jones successfully completed an internship with a law firm.
But nothing in life would prepare her for the turmoil she would then face in starting her legal career, she notes—“The barriers I would have to overcome, the pain, the downfalls – nothing could have equipped me for this.”
Her first experience working in a law firm resulted in multiple experiences of sexual harassment from her boss. Despite the hostile work environment, the comments, the gestures, and bullying, she hung in at the workplace, becoming very proficient at her job.
She went on to replace a legal secretary, retiring after 20 years. However, this woman was reluctant to retire—and in a mean trick, gave Fant-Jones facial lotion—that was in fact hair removal lotion, removing her eyebrows and hairline. The woman was immediately terminated, and to keep Fant-Jones from pressing charges, the boss gave her a raise.
“I now see I always allowed mistreatment to me, I never protected myself,” she says “I allowed the abuse, the harassment, the discrimination to be inflicted towards me and then I accepted it as being ok because I was given a raise or a promotion. I ignored my pain, my frustration, my anxiety, and my depression for acceptance and approval. I wanted so bad to be liked by them that I just endured the trauma. I never thought to put myself first.
“My job was no different from my life of being raised around drugs, violence, death, and constant abuse. So, though it hurt, it also felt normal.”
Fant-Jones was determined to make the job work, no matter the cost. But after three years, she left to take care of family members who had been seriously injured in a car accident.
Two years later, she started working in another law office, and enjoyed the job, receiving many promotions, awards, and honors.
But this workplace eventually became toxic, and after enduring mentally, physically, and health-wise, Fant-Jones left for another job that promised a healthy and safe environment. Yet she noticed it had a fast staff turnover, and discovered workplace harassment, including bullying, gestures, interference, and indirect harassment. The experience ended with her being let go after refusing to provide client information from her previous job; and also after mentioning a pilot program that would allow limited licensing of paralegals.
Thankfully, she is very happy in her current workplace, that entails immigration, commercial litigation, business transaction disputes, construction disputes, construction contracts, corporate law and business structure, and intellectual property.
“I love everything about my work, especially helping people,” she says. “Working in the immigration field and helping a foreign national get their green card is what I love most.
“My legal career has come with many peaks and valleys, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s made me who I am and along the way I’ve met great lifelong friends and learned so much about law. So, what I now do is I channel all of my experience, triumphs, and even pain and I ask, ‘How may I help?’”
A member of the State Bar of Michigan, and past chair with the SBM Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section, and honored with the SBM Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section “Shining Star Award,” she is a current council member and chair of several committees.
“I love the people on the board that I work with at the State Bar and have worked with for 10 years, I love the personal connections I’ve made,” she says. “I love honoring other paralegals and teaching them important tools to perfect their skills.
“I would encourage others to join because it gives you a chance to network with like-minded individuals. It also gives you an opportunity to be educated on new areas of law or to become more seasoned on areas of law you already work in.”
Those past workplace experiences, as well as her time in the domestic violence shelter—that included suffering beatings and rape—seemed something she had to endure in order to give her son a better life.
It eventually inspired her to launch a non-profit 501(c)3—WHEAT (Women Healing Eternally And Transforming – www.wheatorganization.com) and to work with many women going through similar horrors.
The nonprofit will hold a fundraiser in December, where Fant-Jones would like people to vote for WHEAT so the organization will win $500; and on December 9 and 11 she will hold a "Bless a Family" event, where she blesses less fortunate families and children with Christmas gifts.
Fant-Jones has been honored with the “I Am A Survivor Award,” from Sara’s House/Place; Honda’s Inspiration Award from USA Today and the Detroit News/Detroit Free Press; “You’ve Made A Difference” Award from the Eastpointe/Roseville Chamber of Commerce; Community Champion Award from Wayne Metro and Out-Wayne Continuum of Care; and Woman of the Week Award from the Detroit Pistons.
The Detroit native now makes her home in the Macomb County city of Eastpointe, with her husband Thomas and children Nivia, DeLorean, and Vanessa.
She is very fond of her original hometown of Detroit.
“I enjoy the hardness of Detroit and how nothing comes easy for the people that live here and that everyday there is a constant striving to be better than you were yesterday,” she says.
“I enjoy that there is a grit in the people here, that is determined to make their lives worth something.”
In her leisure time, she enjoys reading, studying the Bible, listening to sermons, and watching movies with her sister.
“I also love to service my church and my community especially women and families battling abuse, trauma, and homelessness,” she says.
“Basically, I love to serve and do whatever I can to make someone else’s day lighter.”
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