Striding in My Purpose


A brief story of one young black woman’s journey to her dream

By: Elizabette Privat
Edited by: Jacqueline Carlisle

After being the first in my family to graduate high school on time and with an honors distinction, I enlisted in the military (army branch) where I was assigned the 35F MOS (Top secret clearance: Intel analyst). My initial plan was not to join the military but to go straight to college, but unfortunately my finances made that dream seem impossible. My high school counselor did not tell me about financial aid or grants, so I assumed that the only way I would be able to attend college would be to cough up around $25-30,000 every year (which around this time, was my mother’s entire year’s salary). Unfortunately, after just 3 months in the military I began to experience strange seizures and attacks after exercising. I was told that my blood pressure was through the roof and that my heart was moving at a rate that put me at grave risk of a heart attack. In fact, the doctors wondered how I wasn’t dead by a heart attack already. In a resting position my heart was pumping at a whopping 250 beats per minute (the average for my body is about 88 bpm). No one can explain this phenomenon but they thought it best to send me home on a medical discharge to have more experts check me out.

I came home in November of 2013. Michele Andre, who at the time was a friend of my brothers, was living in the spare room of my home. She’d moved in just a few weeks prior to me coming home. Both of her parents were deceased and she had recently found herself without a place to live so my mom, although hesitant, decided to open up our home to her. She was a full time college student at Borough of Manhattan community college and pursuing a degree in criminal justice. As soon as I came home, Michele had encouraged me to apply for college. She assisted me along the way. It was my first time ever have someone be so hands on in helping me pursue a higher degree, and even prepare me for the workforce. My initial thought was that I would just find a job and work until I can afford school, but Michele had different intentions. Before I knew it I was enrolled in Baruch College for the spring 2014 semester, majoring in English. Michele also helped me to develop my resume, and to dress for success! I owe a lot of who I am today to her hard work.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015. I was enrolled in a 3000 level Black studies course where I began to learn about the African Diaspora, blacks in mass media, and the depth of the mass incarceration problem. I participated in a few protests and I began to ask my mother more questions about my step father, David Smith, who’d been in prison for over 35 years.  Inspired by Thurgood Marshall, Bryan Stevenson, and most of all my step father, David Smith, it was then I decided to pursue a career in law where I felt I can make the biggest impact in society. I made the decision to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice where I would major in Law & society. My mission was to excel as an undergraduate student, and to pave my way to the best law school I possibly can; to not only excel, but to EXCEED. I had set it in my mind that I would be a leader of tomorrow.

In the summer of 2015, I was ready to make the next step in my journey to law school by taking a shot at the dreaded Law School Admissions test. Prep courses run about $1,500 or more and my parents did not have that kind of money. I knew that if I relied on them I would never be able to take the course so, with faith, I started a campaign to raise the money. I expected to raise the money within 6 months but to my surprise… I raised the money in just 3 days. So many judges, lawyers (including Marylin mosbey, the prosecutor from the Freddie gray case), and strangers all across the nation donated to my cause. I then took a shot at commenting on the pages of celebrities and within minutes, Solange Ferguson replied. We spoke for a few minutes via DM and the following night I received an email that she donated $1,000 to my campaign. This victory was an affirmation of my purpose.

Throughout this journey, I have also been accepted into the Honors Program at John Jay College (the top 1% of my school), won 2 scholarships (the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship & Upper Division Scholarship), and have had my work published in John Jay’s Finest journal of the best student writings of the year (volume 32). This spring I am set to start a competitive judicial internship with Justice Pam Jackman-Brown at Queens County Court. I am also a junior TASC (formerly known as G.E.D – High school equivalency) tutor at Brownsville Community Justice Center.

I am set to graduate from John Jay College of Criminal Justice as a Magna Cum laude, dean’s list, honors program student in the Fall of 2017. I aspire to attend NYU law school for civil rights/criminal justice. My ultimate life-time goal? To strike down the second clause of the 13th amendment which states that slavery is permissible as punishment for a crime and to become America’s first black woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court. You heard it here first!

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