It was her grandmama, Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb, who inspired Sabriya Hill to a life of public service. As the first African American woman licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the U.S., Webb was also the first African American elected to the North Carolina General Assembly. Today, her granddaughter is following in her political footsteps having just been elected to public office where she will soon become Henry County’s new Superior Court clerk.
“I come from a family of public service,” Hill said during an interview last week as she talked about her notable grandmother. “...So that’s where public service kind of initiated in my blood. She passed in 1992, and was very much a family woman. She was very much goal driven. She taught me whatever you set your mind to, you could become. There wasn’t anything that as a woman you could not be. There weren’t any limitations that anyone could place on you in life. She definitely instilled that in my sisters and me. Education was a very high priority in our family.”
Her paternal grandmother Webb, who graduated from Tuskegee Institute (now University), served as a professor there before becoming a professor of biology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
“I was 14 when she passed,” Hill said. “I wish she was alive now so I could have that conversation with her... Growing up, I would see pictures of her campaigning, and I just have visions of her being this strong woman who I’d always see obtain anything she wanted in life, and she did. People always talked highly of her.”
Hill said she knows her grandmother would be proud of her granddaughter as she takes office.
Born in Prince George’s County, Md., Hill moved to be with family in Georgia 22 years ago, then nine years later, she became a resident of Henry County. She began her education at Georgia Perimeter College where she attained a degree in psychology. She went on to receive her bachelor of science degree in public policy, management and governance from Georgia State University in 2015.
In 1999, Hill joined the city of Atlanta Police Department as a dispatcher. She entered the Police Academy in 2000, and has been a police officer ever since. Now a lieutenant with the Clayton County Police Department, Hill will retire from her post with the Office of Professional Standards, Internal Affairs Unit of the Clayton County Police Department when she begins her new duties in Henry County.
As a young dispatcher, Hill said it was interesting listening to “all the excitement on the radio.”
She laughs and said it became hard for her to “stay contained in that room.”
“I went out with a few ride alongs with the officers and decided I wanted to be out there with all the excitement and everything they were doing,” she added. “I was a patrolman for many years and then promoted to sergeant in 2012, then spent many years on the road in the capacity of a supervisor.”
Hill said she had many interesting experiences as a patrolman, but the one that first comes to mind is the last one she had before she was transferred to the criminal investigations division.
“We had a barricaded gunman who held several employees at a Family Dollar Store hostage,” she recalls. “As he held those employees, he began to shoot at us officers outside the door. As I was set up with my rifle at the back door, he ran out the door a couple of times and ran back into the store. That was the last close call I had working on the road until I was transferred into a division that was not patrol.”
When asked if she missed being out on the road, Hill said, “I’ve gotten past the excitement.”
The daughter of Amina Muhammad of Reston, Va., and the late Burleigh Webb, Hill has two sisters and a brother. Sister Maryam Abdul-Kareem is an attorney in New Jersey; sister Mabeelah Muhammed works for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., and brother, Sirri Webb, works in northern Virginia.
Sabriya Hakeem and Ricardo Hill met through their work in law enforcement and married five years ago. Ricardo Hill is a captain and precinct commander for Clayton County Police.
They have five children between them, including Damond, Kayla, Joshua, Omar and Johara, ranging in ages from 31 to 13.
Hill says the children have all been excited about her election and says the youngest, 13-year-old Johara is the most vocal. “She’s a firecracker,” her mother said, adding Johara knows all about politics and she could see her following in her footsteps someday.
Hill’s first attempt at political office was 2016, when she fell short of winning the Henry County Superior Court clerk’s race. This time Hill, who is a Democrat won with a reported 70,816 votes to 48,399 for three-term Clerk of Superior Court Barbara Harrison, a Republican.
Hill says she was drawn to seeking this office because she was interested in the jury process and in part, the possibility of introducing data mining into the county’s court system.
“It’s what some other courts, like in particular Washington, D.C., use to select jurors prior to (or) weed out jurors that are not capable of standing or performing jury duty,” she said. “Normally the process happens after jurors are selected and subpoenaed to come to court and judges and lawyers do what they call voir dire to determine if that juror is competent or capable of standing for jury duty on that particular trial.
“Data mining is when this process will take place prior to the jurors being selected. It saves time and money... (They) are weeded out before they come to court... This is something I think can be introduced in Henry County. I thought, hey, I’d like to introduce this at the level of Henry County.”
When asked if the data mining computer program is used in nearby counties, Hill said, “To my knowledge, there are no other metro Atlanta jurisdictions that are doing it. So, I’m hoping to introduce it to the Atlanta metro area.”
Introducing data mining to the county is just one of her three platform issues. Hill lists implementing diversification as the first of her three issues.
“I would like to see the office kind of better represent the demographics of Henry County with the staff and with the culture,” she said. “I’m not talking just race, but know that Henry County’s demographics have changed over the years, and we want the office to better represent the demographics, meaning we want what the community looks like in the office so our office appears to better serve the community that we serve. We want to be sensitive to the people we serve. Culture diversity training — I’m hoping to introduce that.”
Presently there are 23 people on staff in the Clerk’s Office in addition to the clerk, Hill said, adding that of that number, two are Black and the others are white.
“I want to highlight diversity on hiring sites and job listings,” she said. “I want to create diversity from new policies. We talked about the training. Have a diverse hiring board, interview panel. I can’t really say why it is the office is that way. I’m not going to get rid of anybody. Not going to do it that way. We have a census coming out, so I don’t even know what the make up of Henry County is. According to the 2010 Census, (Henry is) around 55 percent white and even according to 2010, (we’re) not even close to the makeup of what the demographics were. I would like to have a little more diversity in the office.”
The third issue in her platform is to improve technology.
“I want to create a website that is specific to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office where customers can go and access a majority, if not all of the services we offer,” Hill said. “I want to improve the technology within the office to be comparable to leading clerks’ offices in the nation eventually. We know with time, technology improves.”
She will leave her post with the Clayton County Police Department on Dec. 25. When asked about the national conversation going on now regarding law enforcement and defunding, Hill shared her thoughts.
“I think it’s unfortunate we live in a society where people have strong feelings and mistrust toward police because of unfortunate circumstances that have taken place,” she said. “Some things are legitimate and some are not. I am pro police, but only in the sense that we are transparent and held accountable for our actions. I am not for defunding the police. We must treat everyone fairly, and we have a job to do and do it with integrity and be honest. As long as we’re doing that, I support police, but I support everyone regardless of who we are.”
While she ran as a Democrat, Hill said she plans to treat everyone fairly.
“I’ve always been a Democrat, a strong Democrat and believe in strong Democrat values,” she said. “I do not feel in this position that you need to be a Democrat or Republican because obviously you are going to serve the citizens regardless of their political affiliation, and I plan to do the same and treat everyone fairly. Obviously, the political world doesn’t see it that way, so I have to choose what political party I affiliate with. I’m a supporter of democracy, so I chose the party I affiliated with and believe in. I plan to serve the public either way. Democrat or Republican, Republican or Democrat, neither party comes before the other.”
As Hill prepares for her new job, she says she is “leaning on God.”
In addition to being a police captain, Ricardo Hill is also a pastor. In ministry for 22 years, he has been the senior pastor at Farguson Chapel Baptist Church in McDonough.
“So aside from being a police lieutenant and about to be clerk, I’m a first lady,” Hill says, referring to the title often given to the wife of a pastor.
Hill says she is excited about her new role.
“My experience as a politician is I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “Just when you think you know most of it, you learn some more. There have been some tireless nights, obviously. I have made a lot of friends. I learned that I had far more supporters than I thought I had. Yeah, there were some enemies, but I think that my faith has strengthened during the process, and I’ve learned (to) lean more on God and just absolutely believe that he’s in control no matter what that any one thing anyone does to block my success. When he says a door is going to open, you just have to trust and believe it will.”