A Year of Firsts

Majeeda Snead, J.D. '84 appeared in the HBO show, Treme.
Majeeda Snead, J.D. '84 appeared in the HBO show, Treme.

By James Shields

Majeeda Snead, J.D. ’84 was watching a basketball game when she got a very important phone call. A friend of hers called to let her know she was about to miss her acting debut on national television.

Snead, who is clinical professor in the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice at the College of Law, got the chance of a lifetime when she was asked by the HBO producers of the New Orleans-set program, Treme, to appear in an episode as the director of the law clinic, something she knows a lot about. Snead served as acting director from 2007 to 2008 and 2010 – 2011, taking the helm from Bill Quigley, who was on leave from Loyola. Snead originally went in to read for one episode for season two, and the creators of the show ended up writing her into an extra episode.

“I wasn’t as nervous as you would think most people who’ve never acted before would be. I was basically playing myself, even the character was named Majeeda,” says Snead. “Talking about the law clinic and taking on students comes naturally.”

Snead filmed scenes at St. Jude Community Center, Betsy’s Pancake House on Canal Street, and a law firm in mid-city New Orleans. She even got her own trailer.

Snead grew up in the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood in New Orleans East, also the home of Wendell Pierce, star of Treme and 2011 Loyola honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker. Pierce’s mother was Snead’s elementary school teacher growing up. Pontchartrain Park is a very important community in the history of the United States. It was one of the first suburban neighborhoods built by and for African-Americans after World War II. Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005 and is still heavily unpopulated. Two people that have rebuilt and are the only ones on their block are Snead’s parents, who are in their late 80s.

Snead is very proud of the resilience of her parents, and the chance to play herself on Treme is no comparison to the feeling of pride she felt this summer when her parents got to see her receive an award.

In July, Snead was one of five local African-American women honored by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans for being “firsts” in their community. Snead was honored for being the first African-American women to serve as law clinic director.

“I think the most important part of being honored was to see the pride in my parents’ eyes at the ceremony; to give them that joy in this stage of their lives was the most meaningful part of receiving the award,” says Snead.

Snead started her legal career as the 1985 recipient of the Reginald Hebert Smith Fellowship while working at New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation in the Family Law Unit. During that fellowship, she established an in-house relationship with Catholic Charities, representing displaced battered women. In 1987, she joined the law firm of Howell & Bayer, and in 1990, became a partner in the law firm of Howell & Snead, specializing in civil rights, plaintiff civil litigation, criminal defense, and family law. Her law partner at the time, Mary Howell, is the basis for the character Toni on Treme, played by Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo.

“It was wonderful to work with everyone. When I met Melissa the first day, she embraced and engaged me very quickly to make me comfortable in front of the camera so when the cameras started rolling, it naturally looked like we were best of friends. Everyone was very down to earth and helpful,” says Snead.

She tried to not make a big deal about her acting debut, only telling a few people.

“People that I know called me from all over the country after they saw me on the show. They were shocked. Nobody knew,” Snead says.
Snead is not leaving the world of clinical law anytime soon. Although she loved being part of the show and would do it again, the amount of work that goes into just a couple minutes of screen time is overwhelming.

“It takes hours to get a few lines out. It was an experience that teaches you what you think you want to do in life. It takes a lot of patience. I wouldn’t want to pursue it,” says Snead.

The work of the clinic is a side of Loyola that many may not know about.

“With some of the feedback I got, it’s obvious there has been some positive light shed on the clinic and the work of the faculty, staff, and students there.”

As the fall semester has kicked into overdrive for Snead, she is busy again with the clinic and working with the students. And if she wants to take a break and watch her acting debut again, she just has to call her parents. They have it on tape.

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