It seems like yesterday; but 27 unbroken years have passed and, again, history, as it is always the case, has repeated itself. Cllr. Rosemarie Banks-James has stepped in the same shoes her mother — Mother Mary Jane Brisbane-Banks — stepped in those many years ago. And guess where? In the same church: Eliza Turner Memorial AME Church on Camp Johnson Road.
Cllr. James, the sister of Associate Supreme Court Justice Phillip A. Z. Banks, III, was crowned Eliza Turner’s Mother of the Year on May 11, 2014, in observance of that Church's annual Mothers’ Day program, held under the auspices of the Women Missionary Society (WMS).
The Daily Observer’s Women Desk had an exclusive interview with Cllr. James, a well-seasoned and an astute lawyer:
Daily Observer (DO): Mother Rosemarie Banks-James, congratulations and thanks for allowing the Daily Observer to interview you.
Mother/Cllr. James: You are welcome and thanks for the compliments.
DO: You were recently crowned Mother of the Year; tell us your feeling.
Mother James: I was so happy. It was like history repeating itself. I said to the church on that day, I am very, very happy because my mother was made Mother of the Year in this same church.
DO: How many years ago?
Cllr. James: About 27, 28 years ago and now I am being made Mother of the Year. At that time, we were all happy because we were all around.
DO: These days, churches just make people Mother of the Year, Father of the Year, Brother of the Year and so forth, because of what the person has, was that the same in your case?
Mother James: No. I have worked in that church from baby. We grew up in that church. We attended Sunday School, we climbed the ladder gradually in the church and held different positions in different organizations in the church. So I have worked hard. Yeah, they love me because I know how to help the church make money and I do give cheerfully.
DO: Mother James, growing up as a young woman in the church and looking at today’s young women in Liberia, what piece of advice can you give them?
Cllr. James: I tell them like I tell my children. As soon as they tell me that they have a problem, I always tell them go to church… (laughs)
DO: You think the solution is in the church?
Mother James: It gives peace of mind and sometimes when you hear the sermon, you forget about your problems. It helps you to find solution to your problems. You are sitting there and worrying about your problems when you can take them to the Lord in prayer. That’s what we were taught. From small, we were taught to pray and about the church. A lot of the young women are not going to church, but I thank God that we can encourage few of them to go to church. They say, ‘I can’t find a good husband…’ I tell them you are not going to find a good husband on the streets. Go to church and you are going to find whatever you are looking for—peace of mind.
DO: This question might be biased among your girls, which one of them you wish that that person continues the history by becoming the next Mother of the Year?
Mother James: (Laughs) Let me tell you among my five children, my oldest girl, Fatuma, she’s a lover of church…
DO: So you want her to continue the history?
Mother James: Yes, she loves church; she sings in the choir in the church in the States. She has three boys and a girl, who along with she and her husband, go to church every Sunday. She doesn’t miss a Sunday. She is more than me.
DO: Mother James, as a seasoned lawyer in the court, you should take a tough face there, do you take you motherly instinct there, too?
Mother James: All the time…(laughs)
DO: And does it play on your judgment?
Mother James: A lot, because when I try to explain to people, I relate it to everyday life out there—as a woman, as a mother, sometimes when I see the young people misbehaving, I tell them the things I didn’t take from my children, I am not going to take them from you. You have to act this way. I go to the court and I say to the lawyers, and as a teacher in my profession, I tell some of the lawyers, hey I didn’t train you this way, they get back to themselves because they feel that they have missed the law in front of their professor.
DO: By making you Mother of the Year, what does the church expect from you?
Mother James: Let me tell you what I did this year for my church. I made them take two projects: They needed a projector, I donated that to the church. But we have been trying to finish the front part of the church. That part is the Pastor’s office. We have been dragging this work for a very long time. So, I told the Missionary that we have to do something about it. So if we raise some money, we can start by saying we will do the window or door and this will help the church. To get this done, I invited a lot of friends and relatives to come and help me raise some money for this project. The Missionaries are so happy from that day, they are still thanking me.
DO: There have been many Mothers of the Year in the Church, your tenure is now, what legacy you wish to leave when you turn the crown over to another mother?
Mother James: You know the song one of my adopted daughters—Grace Martins Yonway—who sang before I spoke says: If I can help somebody as I pass this way or as I go along, then my living won’t be vain. You don’t need to praise me now. I have told people when I left from here during the war and found myself along with my family in the States, I got a teaching job. I was in America with my children and didn’t need to help anybody but I took so many young people there and put them in the college. Most of them have graduated and are back, some of them are still there in the States. So, I feel good about it. If I can help somebody as I pass this way, my living won’t be vain, that is my legacy.
DO: Looking at Liberia, what can you tell young people today in Liberia?
Mother James: Be focused, learn, get an education. Never think work is too hard because we work until we get old. Young people these days don’t want to work. They always say government should create jobs for them but the jobs that government creates they are not interested in them. So, they need the education to get the jobs that they want. This is what the young people need to do. Don’t jump from the bottom to the top because when you fall, there would be nothing to hold you. So, let the young people get an education first before asking for jobs.
About Mother Rosemarie Banks-James
She is the seventh child of Philip A. Z. Banks, I, and Mary Jane Brisbane. She is a strong advocate for the rights of women and children. She has held several positions not only in Eliza Turner but at the Liberia Annual Conference level of the 14th Episcopal District. Mother James served as a Steward, YPD Director of the WMS, Chairman, Finance Committee, Trustee of the Liberian Annual Conference and Legal Counsel for the 14th Episcopal District AME Church among others. She holds a BA degree in Political Science and History, LL.B and LL.M degrees in Law from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, UL and McGill University respectively. She is a former Professor of Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, former Professor of Law/Legal Studies and Criminal Justice, Morris Brown College and American Intercontinental University, USA. Mother James has for over 30 years advocated for the rights of women and children and is a founding member of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Women Initiative and Women Development Association of Liberia and is presently the founder/President of Women Care International, an organization she established while in the US. She is on the Editorial Board of Liberia Law Experts and has contributed to the compilation, editing and publishing of Volumes 1-4 of 1LCLR and Volumes 1-41 of LLR. Mother James is married to Cllr. Emmanuel B. James and they have five children and eight grandchildren. She also has several adopted children.