By Joanna Nakamoto • May 10, 2017•Writers in Residence
Ms. Ieshia Champs-Smith is a rising 3L student at Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Texas. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a women’s attorney event where she was honored as one of the scholarship recipients. Ieshia’s story is rife with so much turmoil and tragedy. Although her dreams might have died once or twice, her resolve and faith in God never let her give up. Now, she is roughly one year away from achieving her dreams of becoming an attorney.
When Ieshia was very young, she was taken away from her parents and sent to live with her grandmother. At the time, both of her parents were drug addicts. Eventually, she and three out of her four siblings went into foster care (her older brother went to live with his biological father). She missed her parents. Although she cried everyday she distinctly remembers seeing new clothes on the floor and realizing that her new situation wasn’t as bad as she thought it was. With a fresh start, Ieshia came to the realization that she wanted to become an attorney to help people get a second chance at life the same way she did.
After awhile, living in the foster home was no longer viable, so her uncle adopted Ieshia and her siblings and homeschooled them along with his own children; her grandmother kept them in church. Eventually, her parents tried to clean themselves up from all the drugs, but unexpectedly, her father was murdered. After things didn’t pan out living with her uncle, they moved in with a cousin and her mother went back to using drugs. Her sister got pregnant at the age of 14, and her family ended up splitting up in different ways, living with different people. Ieshia, herself, bounced around a bit more after that. She dropped out of high school during some rebellious years where she got caught up with the wrong crowd. At that moment, she dropped her dream of ever becoming an attorney. Sometimes outside forces consume the best of us in an attempt to kill off our dreams.
Ieshia was raising two children when she met the father of her third child. He was incarcerated for most of the pregnancy, but he finally made it home after his release. Unfortunately, he was physically violent to Ieshia, but she remained devoted and never left. After two years of being together, they received news that he was diagnosed with stage four cancer and the doctors told Ieshia that she should start making arrangments. During that same year she lost everything she had in a house fire, got laid off from her job, found out she was pregnant again, and her mother suffered a stroke. Then, her fiancé passed away. He was the breadwinner, and she had nothing left. She even attempted suicide by driving her car off the freeway.
Having nowhere to turn to, Ieshia began attending church more often. The first time she met the preacher’s wife was in a prayer line where she asked Ieshia what she wanted. She kept attending church, getting closer to the church community and with God. Ieshia heard God speak through the Pastor’s wife, who encouraged her to go back to school and get a GED, and even told her that she would become an attorney…something she never told anyone at the church before. The Pastor’s wife also gave her a message that God was going to send her a husband, which he eventually did. Ieshia reflects on this moment by stating that sometimes God has to move certain people out of your life to make room for something better.
She got her GED from the University of Houston – Downtown and reunited with her mother, who came to live with her, her children, and her sister in a one bedroom apartment. Then her mother suffered a stroke and was put into a nursing home to rehabilitate. The following year she enrolled in a community college to be a paralegal, but quit soon after enrolling. Concerned individuals at her church persuaded her to press on, which she did, eventually graduating with honors for the paralegal program. She then went back to the University of Houston – Downtown to finally receive her bachelor’s degree in applied administration. Around this same time, she met the husband that had been prophesized to her by the church’s first lady before.
Ieshia then prepared to take the LSAT, and initially received a low score. She became severely discouraged. Yet the church’s first lady persisted she try again, so she did and her score improved. She applied to Thurgood Marshall and waited patiently for more than a month to hear any news about her admission. She distinctly remembers sitting in church one day, when the first lady came, hugged her and told her to check her email because God has spoken to her. A few days later she checked her email when she noticed there was an invitation to apply to Thurgood Marshall. She thought it was odd, so she emailed the school directly about her current application. Within thirty minutes, she received news that she had in fact been accepted.
Her first semester went very well, and by her second semester she had secured an internship with a solo practitioner. She finished her 1L year in the top 15% of her class and this past 2L year she made the dean’s list. There is so much more complexity to Ieshia’s story and many more reasons to be in awe of how far she has come. From someone who knows struggle all too well, here are her final words of advice for those who also tend to fail in seeing the light while traversing through temporary dark tunnels:
Regardless of where you are in life now or what you’ve been through, it doesn’t dictate who you are or where you’re going for tomorrow.You’ll go through lots of obstacles, but with God nothing is impossible.Have faith, and anything is possible.More importantly, your struggles can become your success story, and you should use that to encourage other people that there is always hope.
At the time of this article Ieshia became the recipient of the Houston Bar Association Auxillary Charitable Fund. She is an amazing person, with an amazing story. Her faith in God, self-determination, and the will to succeed are truly a shining example of what it means to go from tragedy to triumph.
A very special thanks to Ieshia Champs-Smith, for sharing her courageous story and uplifting advice with me.