After bouncing around family homes, ending up in foster care, and having her first child at 19, Ieshia Champs could never have imagined what she would achieve when she grew up.
But nearly 14 years and a total of five kids later, the single mother has graduated from law school.
The 33-year-old, originally from Texas, has been through a lot but looking at her beautiful family in her recent graduation photos, she says the trying times have been worth it to get to where she is now.
From leading her a church that provided her with guidance, as well as the people she would quickly call family, Ieshia now sees that her earlier struggles are coming full circle.
And it all started with one Child Protective Services caseworker, Gail Covington, who picked her and her siblings up when Ieshia was just around seven-years-old.
“I’ll never forget it,” Ieshia tells Yahoo Lifestyle, of the moment Gail brought them to a home outside of the chaos that the little girl was used to.
“I cried so hard because I missed my familiar surroundings, even though they were horrible. And one day, I woke up in time for school. I actually had a bed to sleep in, and we had brand-new clothes on the floor. It was then that I realised my friends had no idea about this type of life.”
What Ieshia dubbed the 'drug-filled environment' where she lived with her mum was the norm for everyone in their neighbourhood.
Once she had an idea of another type of lifestyle, she began to wonder what she could do about all of the people left behind without help. Her teachers introduced her to the idea of becoming an attorney. But things would go downhill again first.
Being adopted by a maternal uncle, Ieshia says that she and her siblings eventually ended up back in an apartment with their mum - which ended up leading her down a bad path.
“We really didn’t have much guidance,” Ieshia explains. “My sister ended up having her first baby at 14. I ended up dropping out of school my 10th or 11th grade year, and I ran across my kid’s father. We ended up having our first child, and then we had a second. And it just kept going.”
It was when Ieshia had three children and a fourth on the way that her life began to change. Her sister enticed her to attend a service at a church in Houston, led by Bishop Richard and Louise Holman, who she now refers to as dad and mum.
Ieshia recalls a service where Louise, who serves as a prophetess, called the single mother up to the front of the church and offered up information about Ieshia’s future.
Louise said that God wanted Ieshia to go back to school, so she could follow her dream of becoming a lawyer — a dream that Ieshia had never shared with Louise.
“She told me that God would take care of me,” Ieshia says. “During that same year - it was 2009 - I ended up having a house fire, I lost everything that I had. I got laid off from my job, the father to two of my children died of cancer while I was seven months pregnant, I literally tried to kill myself, and I ended up going back to [finish school].”
Ieshia says it was her new-found faith that helped her get an associate’s degree in paralegal studies at Houston Community College, and a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston.
Both degrees eventually brought her to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, where she officially graduates in May. Although receiving her Juris Doctor degree was far from easy, she commends her five children for making it possible.
Giving her time to do both her work and rest, Ieshia says her eldest son, who is now 14, has been amazing at taking the other four children - aged from 5 to 12 - to a quiet place in the house to do activities or snack. In order to honour this commitment, she decided to include them all in her graduation photos, which were taken by Bishop Richard.
Her inspiring photos have now gone viral online, but Ieshia won’t let that distract her from what she wants to do with her doctorate. Once she passes the bar exam, which is to become a general attorney, she wants to specialise in family law and juvenile law, and eventually become a judge.
“I feel like with what I’ve been through as a child and in my upbringing, I can probably help some of these juveniles who may feel like there’s no hope for them,” Ieshia explains.
“I want to be the one to fight for those children who are in these horrible living arrangements. To try to help them reconcile with the family, or if not, give them the same opportunity that I had.”
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