William Snowden, 32, a full-time public defender, represents poor people charged with crimes on a daily basis. After realizing the juries were not reflective of New Orleans demographically, he decided to proactively change the narrative. In 2016, William founded, The Juror Project. We educate the community how to reform the criminal justice system from the jury box as well as the impact diversity has on case outcomes. Our focus is to increase the diversity of jury panels and improve people’s perspective of jury duty.
Q: How did you get started? Tell us your motivation for starting this business. *
A: In 2015 I did around 5 jury trials and I noticed the juries were not reflective of New Orleans. Not just demographically but also ideologically. There were barriers in place that prevented the people I represented from having a true jury of their peers. Frustrated with the mechanisms utilized to bleach the jury, I created The Juror Project as an initiative to promote fair and representative juries.
Q: As an African American/Black entrepreneur, what were some of the biggest challenges and/or surprised you faced when starting your business? *
A: I was surprised with how many people in the black community really despise jury duty because they despise the system. On a surface level, I get it. The system is terrible and it is most-often terrible to people of color. But, when you are summoned to jury duty, and given an opportunity to improve the system, even for a day, some people can’t see the opportunity as a chance to give someone a fair trial. A chance to make this system less despicable. A chance to really help our own.
Q: New Orleans is such a “robust” entrepreneurial ecosystem. What are the resources (people, networks, organizations, programs, books, articles, etc.) that you have found most useful in starting and/or growing your business? *
A: When I describe the mission and purpose of The Juror Project, a lot of people say, “that makes sense.” And, it does. It makes sense to educate a community about the power constitutionally given to them and to know how to flex that power accordingly. In New Orleans, The Juror Project has received much growth, support, and guidance from programs offered through New Leaders’ Council, 4.0 Schools, and Propeller’s Startup Accelerator. New Leaders’ Council helped me develop a mindset and vision for The Juror Project while connecting me to a network of progressive New Orleanians supportive of our mission. 4.0 Schools Essentials program provided me with the rigor and method on how to develop a jury duty unit plan for high school civics teachers that was kid-tested and teacher approved. Finally, Propeller recognized some of the seeds that I had planted to establish roots for The Juror Project and truly gave me institutional and programmatic support to start the budding process of The Juror Project to truly begin to bear the fruit of impact and reform. As part of the Propeller program, I was partnered with Trepwise and they are the truth. My venture was somewhat of a non-traditional one in the sense that our conversations weren’t geared heavily around making money and product development. We focused on key relationships, partnerships, and opportunities The Juror Project should be pursuing and having the capacity to flourish once those were developed.
Q: What are you most proud of (related to your business)? *
A: When someone tells me a story about how they corrected and challenged a friend (because of attending a Juror Project presentation) when that friend loathed the jury summons they received. We are all The Juror Project and whenever an ambassador spreads our message and call to action we know that is the impact that signals our success in changing the narrative around jury duty.
Q: What advice do you have to fellow African American/Black entrepreneurs starting a business? *
A: Believe in yourself. Trust in yourself. And don’t be afraid to fail. As a man of color with a blended background, I have a competence around race in this country that is unique to me and my upbringing. As individuals, we are all good at something. We all can do something that others can’t. The challenge can be identifying what we are uniquely good at doing. In order to be successful, one must be willing to leave the herd and venture out on their own trusting not that people will follow, but that you will find something new and share that new something with the world. As a black entrepreneur, you will be underestimated. When people do that, use it to your advantage to blow their mind.
Q: Is there anything you know now that you wished you had known earlier in terms of starting or operating your business?
A: Invest in quality marketing. Doing great work is important and you shouldn’t keep that work to yourself. You will be able to do more great work and be more successful when more people know what you’re doing–not just strangers, but people in your existing network, too. That’s what establishes partnerships and relationships that will pay dividends over and over again. I wish I knew how to have less anxiety when networking. As an introvert, I don’t like forced relationships. I don’t like the “What do you do?” question and impersonal banter that happens at networking events. I like the growth of my network to be organic. When starting The Juror Project, and even today, I’m still working on establishing genuine relationships with like-minded individuals that are genuinely interested in supporting each other.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your business or your personal story?
A: I don’t view my work with The Juror Project, or as a public defender, as a job or a career. Those words don’t encapsulate the responsibility I believe I have to make a difference and impact in my community. I am the product of an awesome family with amazing parents that were not only taught in public school but also taught life lessons in the home, too. It is important to appreciate the people who have helped you grow into the individual you are. I know that I wouldn’t have the passion, vision, or dedication to my community that I do now if it were not for the understanding of life I’ve gained from Billy Ray & Kay Snowden as well as my sisters Liz, Christina, and Mary. They’ve developed expectations of me and I aim to meet them.
LinkedIn: William Snowden