Read the Scholarship Finalists' Essays!
Orlando Center for Justice's scholarship committee selected 5 finalists for our 2022 Scholarship Program. Submissions are shared on Orlando Center for Justice's social media page for the final selection process. The submission with the most cumulative ‘likes’ will receive extra points during the selection process, however it will not be the determining factor. The winner will be announced during Orlando Center for Justice’s Immigrant Appreciation Day on June 25th, 2022. Read the full essays below!
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I have a passion for justice and equality, especially that of underrepresented minorities, and I am extremely grateful that the University of Central Florida opened its doors to me, a transfer student who never thought she could attend undergraduate school given her background. My goal is to make a positive contribution to my community and to become an agent of change for our current Immigration Justice system.
For many years I have worked as a volunteer serving the less fortunate and my lifelong dream has been to assist underrepresented groups to find legal assistance and resources to solve their immigration issues. Since attending the University of Central Florida, this dream has now become a reality through the Immigrant Justice Center at UCF, a registered student organization formed by 4 officers and over 100 students, focused on assisting asylum seekers, refugees, victims of domestic violence, and human trafficking as well as a commitment to empowering students to make a difference in their sphere of influence.
My 2 younger siblings and I were born and raised in Mexico City and we immigrated with our mother, fleeing violence when I was 16. As a single mother with the responsibility of three children, I watched my mother make a lot of sacrifices for us and I committed to helping her and my two sisters; which meant giving up my dream of attending college and having to work to help support our household. My family’s immigration process took nearly 12 years from start to finish. I can honestly say that the wait was worth it, and it has been a privilege to become a part of this great country where possibilities are endless despite anyone’s background and upbringing.
This situation created in me a big interest in helping other immigrants because I understand the suffering and frustration that ignorance about immigration laws and the administrative process can cause to individuals and their families. I desire to help many people struggling with the same thing my family and I did and your assistance with the 2022 Orlando Center for Justice Scholarship will certainly help me reach my educational and professional goals. I currently support myself 100% and my financial situation only allows me to cover basic needs. It is because of the financial aid and scholarships I receive that I can cover academic expenses and I could not be more excited to continue pursuing my dream of attending Law School and becoming an Immigration Attorney.
As a whole, America is a melting pot of many wonderful people of different cultures who each bring enriching pieces of their cultures into our society. This is essential to our society thriving. Diversity allows us to see different points of views that we would never be able to recognize due to our drastically different upbrings which formed our thought processes. Diversity especially benefits the legal profession. The legal profession impacts the laws, the rule book each and every person is required to live by regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, or upbringing. If the legal profession makes such an impact on the rules of our society, those being affected should be able to bring their points of view to the table so that they are represented and considered during the decision-making process.
I am a female of Middle Eastern decent who is a practicing Catholic. I fall into the minority of each category I fall into: a female, Middle Eastern decent, and Middle Eastern Catholic. My family immigrated to the United States as refuges from Iran after the revolution threatened their lives due to their religion. They faced many hardships immigrating here and starting all over. They gave up opportunities and dreams and endured extreme hardships so that I may have the opportunities they never did. This taught me from an early age that I can do anything as long as I have perseverance and a strong work ethic. This has gotten me far in life. When I struggled in high school due to health issues, I pushed forward and graduated with good grades. When my father lost his job of thirty years the summer going into my senior year of undergraduate school, I worked three jobs while being a full time student to support my family and complete my degree—I graduated summa cum laude. Despite a global pandemic beginning my second semester of law school and my family ensuring financial hardships, I am in the top ten of my class. I refuse to fail because my family has sacrificed so much for me to have these opportunities before me and I will build a great life for us.
Due to my immigration story, I understand the importance of diversity in the legal profession and how diversity ensures a plethora of views are heard. I need a seat at the table so others will consider my viewpoint when making decisions. Diversity is desperately needed in leadership roles (especially those in the legal profession) because society itself is diverse and those of different cultures must have a seat at the table to have a voice for those affected by the laws that govern us all. Even those not part of a minority will benefit from the opinions of a minority individual because they will be able to expand their though process and grow. Knowledge is power. Because of my immigration story, I know we need diversity at the table for society to become stronger as a whole.
What do you do when society’s expectations conflict with your own? As a Haitian-born citizen, my expectations were established for me at the early age of three. In the Haitian community, it is not uncommon to see children working to make ends meet. For me, that would have been taking over my mother’s small business, selling vegetables in the dangerous streets of Croix De Bouquet. Yet, even from that young age, I knew I wanted more. My father, who left me when I was a toddler, ventured into the United States to search for a better life. Thankfully, he found a way to reunite years later and gave me a new beginning.
When we came to the United States, I had hoped for normal family life. However, the new life did not please everyone. My elder brother soon left home, leaving me with the responsibilities of the eldest child and the sole English speaker. To assist with the financial demands, I secured employment and tutored other non-native English-speaking students. It was through those experiences that my fondness for serving others emerged. I became a resource for my Haitian community. Not speaking the native language in a country can make an individual feel incompetent. Because I knew how this felt firsthand, I prioritized making myself available to my community. This has led me to discover my purpose in the legal field.
I served as a volunteer interpreter at an immigration law firm. Individuals who trusted me with their confidential information would come to me to seek aid. While I enjoyed working with the clients, it was disheartening to hear their stories. The fear and hopelessness in their faces were devastating, but it solidified what my purpose was: to do everything I could to be a part of their solution. A few years later, I was offered a permanent role as a legal assistant, my current position. Under the supervision of the attorney, I am aiding many in obtaining legal status in the United States. I currently attend the University of Central Florida, where I continue to serve.
As a result, a group of like-minded classmates and I founded a club known as the Immigrant Justice Center. Our goal is to bring students to the community to help underprivileged immigrants.
I have traveled a long journey, and I still have a long way to go. The expectations I face are high, the highest being the expectation I place on myself. My parents live their dreams vicariously through me, my sisters rely on me for a brighter future, and the community hopes that I live in my purpose. Soon, I will open my law practice aiding people who feel incompetent, scared, and hopeless. I will use my influence to give back to the community that has given so much to me. I will inspire young people to have vision, drive, and determination to turn their dreams into a reality.
In 2005, my mother packed up our belongings into a couple of suitcases and migrated my siblings and I to the United States from Netherlands. Like many other immigrants, we came to the United States in search of a better life. I was only ten years old at the time, but I vividly recall arriving in Florida and everything appeared to be so much bigger than I was used to. Initially, I struggled in school due to the language barrier, I was teased because of my diction and background. Other children my age had no knowledge of the great culture and background I descended from.
As an immigrant with limited English and education, my mother always worked entry level positions. As a single mother, she often struggled with putting food on the table and staying on top of paying bills as they came due, despite having several jobs simultaneously. I recall having lived without electricity for a little over a year due to our financial circumstances. For many years, I wrestled with the struggles of being undocumented and not being able to help put my family in a better position financially. I was unable to work due to my immigration status and I when I enrolled myself in an undergraduate degree program, I was unable to pay tuition as I was listed as an out-of-state student and was unable to receive financial aid. Because of this, I had no choice but to drop out.
I was finally able to obtain some relief under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The social and economic struggles I faced, have impacted my approach to the legal profession in various ways. To begin, I always knew that I had to work a lot harder than the rest of my peers. Not only because English was my second language but also because I had no one in my family that I could look to for advice when it came down to furthering my education. Google, the library, and a small group of trusted friends and family became my best friend.
Additionally, diversity has been extremely important due to my background. As a future attorney, I will make methodical efforts to aid in shifting the lack of representation in the legal field. I plan on doing so by offering emotional and financial support and mentorship to individuals in our community.
Finally, because of the struggles that I still face today, I am committed to providing excellent Immigration legal services on a pro-bono basis to individuals once I become an attorney. Because of my personal experience and struggles with the immigration process, I am more knowledgeable and compassionate towards individuals and their circumstances.
Today, I am pleased to say that I am a first-generation immigrant, college graduate, and soon to be law school graduate and attorney. If selected for this scholarship, I will have more time to dedicate myself to my studies and prepare to sit for the Bar Exam. Your kind consideration will be highly appreciated.
As a first-generation college student, my interest in law began at a young age; as cliché as it may sound, Judge Judy's television show was my initial introduction and inspiration to pursue law. Although the things I experienced over time that solidified my passion for law were nothing like the cases Judge Judy would settle, it all resonated with the intent to pursue equality and justice for all. As the proud daughter of immigrants from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who migrated to the United States in 1984 with nothing but courage and hope for a new life. I got to experience life a lot differently from my peers because upon my parent's arrival to the United States; they sacrificed getting an education for their survival. For them, that meant accepting the only opportunity they had, and that was working in agriculture fields. They maintained being migrant agricultural workers for my entire life. That traveled around the United States for temporary work in areas making less than minimum wage to financially support our two-bedroom mobile home that sheltered my family of six, located in the small rural city of Belle Glade, Florida.
Traveling with my parents allowed me to be in many different environments from what I was accustomed to and see people from all walks of life. Therefore, I saw firsthand the inequalities and mistreatment of immigrants in America. For example, farm corporations hired non-English speaking immigrants and had them work endlessly in inhumane environments detrimental to one's health. The farmers provided the workers with housing or overcrowded campsites and restricted their right to privacy with constant threats. As a child, this saddened me because my parents were a part of the mistreatment and were forced to ignore the injustice regardless of how bad the conditions were because we needed the income. At the time, my literacy was all I had to offer to aid my parents in overcoming the barriers mentioned above.
Along with that, I translated documents from English to Haitian Creole, filed work applications, and completed timesheets to lessen the injustice I saw in the workplace amongst my family and fellow immigrants. However, the nonstop experience of feeling silenced and neglected led to my passion for law. It birthed my determination to find a career that allowed me to stand and fight for people who are being mistreated and silenced, like my immigrant and agricultural working parents. Just because a person does not know their legal rights does not mean they don't benefit from those rights. Therefore my legal profession will aim to educate people of all ages on their rights in this country. I want to travel to agriculture fields, schools, community events, and educate people. I also want to do more pro-bono for people with limited resources because I know that legal support can be costly; however, my position as a lawyer means more to me than money. With only 5% of lawyers being African American and 2% as women, I have a greater purpose: to help immigrants experience the freedom and equal opportunities this country offers.