I grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I was about 13 years old when I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and much of what I had experienced in my community aligned with what I read. I decided at that time to do something to better myself and my community. Today, as an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I focus my efforts on making sure people are treated right.
Many of the successful Black men from my hometown that I looked up to attended Wofford College or were members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, men like James Cheek, T. Ferguson, and Al Gray. A lawyer from my hometown that attended Wofford College was the first person to teach me how to tie a necktie. My junior high school principal was a member of Omega Psi Phi. The influence of these men led me to attend Wofford College, become a member of Omega Psi Phi, and continue to pursue higher education.
After graduating from Wofford, I attended law school at Florida State University. In order to graduate, students were required to complete an exit paper. There was only one member of the faculty I trusted to help me with my paper, a Barbadian professor. Although he was regularly out of the country, I decided to take his seminar because he always gave me words of encouragement. For my exit paper, I chose to write about Immigration & Marriage Fraud, which to my surprise, was the most popular subject in the class. A majority of the class had strong opinions about the subject. Quite a few of them had friends or family that had experienced the immigration process. Despite not sharing a similar background nor experience, I earned the highest grade in the course. Also, my paper ended up becoming published as a standing paper in the Florida State Law Journal.
I planned to enlist in the Army after law school and become a Judge Advocate General (JAG). I had even taken my physical exam. But, one day while in the Career Services building, I saw an advertisement for a position with the Department of Justice in the Executive Office for Immigration Review. I applied and was invited to a regional interview at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I was informed by the recruiter that I was the first African-American he’d interviewed in the country in months. Reflecting on how well I did with my studies and writings in immigration law, I began to feel like God was telling me something. Maybe, I was meant to be working in immigration law. I was ultimately offered the position and that’s when my career in public service began.
Now, working as an attorney in Immigration and Customs Enforcement for DHS, I am still inspired by the experiences of my youth. I carry those lessons to keep me grounded and focused. The example of the successful Black men from my community helps me remember who I am and what I am supposed to be doing.