By Joanna Nakamoto • June 05, 2017•Writers in Residence
Around this same time last year I had the honor and privilege of being awarded a scholarship from the Association of Women Attorneys where I got to attend a luncheon with eight other scholarship recipients from the three Houston law schools: the University of Houston Law Center, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and South Texas College of Law. During that luncheon I heard the story of one fellow law student in particular that stood out to me. Her amazing story of defeating adversity brought me to tears at the luncheon and I became Facebook friends with her that very same day. Through Facebook posts, I have kept up with her astonishing journey from being a law student, to a graduate, and now as a licensed attorney. Here is another amazing and compelling story of adversity, courage and triumph:
Sasha was born from a father who was from Turks-Caicos and a mother who was Haitian. She recalls stories of how her father was sick with polio and was crippled until the age of 11. Her parents lived in the Bahamas initially, but then moved to Miami. Sasha of course was born here in America, and was once sent overseas to the Bahamas to stay with her Grandmother for a short period of time to begin primary schooling.
College almost didn’t happen for Sasha because she found out that her father had cancer only days away from taking the SAT. Naturally, her family tried to hide this news from her only because they knew how close she was to him. But she persevered. While growing up her neighborhood was nice, but because of gentrification violence was on the rise. Sasha decided that she didn’t want that for her life, so she secretly applied to the University of Florida and told her family only three weeks before her first day. Her family was so supportive of her decision that they ended up scraping what money they could gather to purchase a laptop for her, and this meant a lot coming from them. She got involved in many extra-curricular activities and graduated with a degree in anthropology, ranking high in her class.
Sasha knew she wanted to become a lawyer and she specifically sought out an Historically Black University to give her that opportunity. As a minority woman, she felt this was important because they would soon be an extension of her family. She applied and got accepted into Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, one (if not thee) most diverse law school in America. At the time, there was no way for her to afford law school. She stayed in contact with the financial aid office and the school administrators on a daily basis to try and figure out a way that she’d be able to afford the cost. She even looked into staying at homeless shelters while in school to forego the living expenses. But even after selling all of her stuff and becoming homeless, she still had to defer admission until the following year to save up money to properly afford it. It was heartbreaking to have to put her dreams of becoming a lawyer on hold so that she could get her life together. She soon moved in with a boyfriend who supported her endeavors and became so wrapped up in working and saving for law school that she had nearly forgotten the purpose of it all. That is, until one day when the financial aid director from the law school called her with the best news she could have ever received: the school finally had the funds to help her with the costs of her legal education. To say she was thrilled/ecstatic would probably be a gross understatement. Now her dreams were taking their first steps into becoming reality.
In 2013, her family reunited, including her brother who was released from prison a few years before, and she bought a car and obtained her first driver’s license. This was a landmark in her life because her legal ability to drive was hindered by the fact that in 2009 she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, which impaired her vision. She was 23 years old when she got her first driver’s license. With all of her possessions loaded into her car she was ready to make the long drive to Texas to begin a new chapter of her life, but not even an hour into her journey she ended up totaling the car in an accident. The responding officer on the scene had recognized something in her car that was labeled with the same Greek letters as the fraternity that he was a part of. It was a sign from God. The officer loaded all of her stuff into his patrol car and drove her to the nearest city, Daytona, Florida, where members of the organization helped get her a rental car. From there, they drove her to Texas, but just as the journey to law school was difficult, the journey through law school would also be a treacherous one.
Although Sasha’s first year of law school was great, her health continued to deteriorate due to some cancerous cells that were recently found in her body. Her mother was her rock and constant source of strength through the entire ordeal. Thankfully, a small procedure to remove the cells dramatically improved her situation and though physically and emotionally she was worn out, she still managed to make it back for her 2L year. A year where her inner glow began to shine on the world. She developed a couple of different philanthropy and community service events at school, including handing out toiletries and necessities to the homeless and setting up a haunted house at the law school for small children. She joined the mock trial team and participated in a tournament where they got selected to go to nationals.
Around this time, she received a phone call from her cousin who brought bad news…her brother had been shot nine times and was in critical condition. Word of this spread throughout the law school and the next thing she knew some of her professors were offering to give her the funds to change her plane ticket in order to make it home to be with her family. She arrived in Miami in tears while her brother fought for his life. Still, 1,000 miles away in the city of Houston, Sasha still manages to be present for her commercial law class…via videochat. Why? Because Sasha takes nothing for granted and given the technological ability to attend class, she took it in full stride.
By the grace of God with her brother on the mend, and her determination to not let the team down she was able to make it back to Houston and go forward with the mock trial competition. Amazingly, her team came in sixth place. She then received the title of Miss Thurgood Marshall and managed to make the Dean’s list for that semester. Fast-forward to 3L year and Sasha takes more onto her plate. She has thirty mentees under her wings, her mock trial team wins regionals again and for the first time in her school’s history the team takes second place nationally by a very narrow margin. She even has time to acquire an internship in Washington D.C.
After successfully graduating law school, the hustle doesn’t stop for Sasha. Now it’s bar prep time and she is all in. She’s hardly sleeping and studying the hardest she has every studied for anything in her life. All of the stress leads to a breaking point…the loss of vision in her left eye just two weeks before the Texas bar exam was to begin. It was a devastating blow over a battle with her body that she has always been very sensitive about. She sat in her apartment for two days in silence. Although Sasha is never one to ask for help, this time she did and she setup an appointment with a doctor who told her that she was studying too much and needed to slow down. For the first time in her adult life she was learning to be vulnerable. She posted the news to her Facebook and the outpouring of support she received was overwhelming. Her professors, classmates, and mentees all helped her to pull through. They visited her home and read the study materials to her. They even made flash cards for her. One of her deans called on a regular basis to make sure that she was okay. From all of the help and kindness given by those around her, she gained more fuel to pass the bar exam. Shortly before the first day of the exam, she regained her vision and she walked out of the test room everyday saying to herself, “I passed!”
When it was finally all said and done, she went back to Miami to spend time with her family and unwind. She then came back to Texas in November when the bar results were about to be released. She remembers the night a rumor circulated that she had passed it. Apparently, there was some glitch in the system, which prematurely revealed the names of those who passed; hers was one of them. By the time she tried to look at the results for herself, the glitch was cured. The next day when the official results were finally posted she saw her name and cried hysterically. Since the bar exam, Sasha has had an experimental procedure which was successful and though it did not cure her disease, it has permanently stopped her from ever having to fear a complete loss of vision again. Sasha has also recently been accepted into the dual L.L.M. degree program at the University of Houston Law Center.
Reflecting on it all she firmly believes that going through struggles and hardship makes a person that much hungrier for success. More than anything she wants her future kids to hear her story and remember that in life, things aren’t going to be handed down so easily and that they must take what they want to gain out of it. She doesn’t see her struggle as a sad story, but one of strength and accomplishment. What’s her advice to others?
“When life hands you lemons, you make orange juice.” Which stands for the proposition that despite the curveballs life has thrown at her, she has made magic happen with an unexpected result nobody ever saw coming: growing from a poor child’s dream to a certified attorney who is on a flourishing path to changing the world around her. She is a shining example for all those who have similar uphill battles, and the relentless desire to reach dreams held deep within the sky. Her story encourages us all to push past the obstacles and pull those dreams directly from the sky down to Earth once and for all.
A very special thanks to Ms. Sasha Missick for allowing me to share her incredible story with you <3