She was only seventeen when she realized she was pregnant. Having grown up in a predominantly white town in Ohio, she knew better than to bear a black man’s child, especially at that age. An adopted child herself, she decided someone else could provide her son a better life than a struggling high school student could. But my mother suddenly changed her mind seconds after holding me; by and large, my life’s greatest blessing. The struggles that would confront her may not have been clear at the moment, but she was willing to sacrifice plenty: forgoing college dreams, working multiple low wage jobs to put food on the table, being shunned by family for the color of her child’s skin, and most of all, being forced to do so alone. It was the nights that I awoke to her muffled sobs, seeing her still dressed in dirty waitressing clothes, that impacted me the most. I learned early on in life that the cards may not always be in your favor and that some people have to work harder to succeed. Yet by witnessing her struggle, I ultimately learned the value of resiliency and hard work. My mother’s perseverance instilled an insatiable hunger and an unrelenting drive, which ultimately would guide me through life.
Growing up a minority in a single parent, low-income household presented its own set of unique challenges, but none more consequential than the lack of a father figure. A young black boy in yesterday’s America had little to no strong black male role models, aside from rappers and athletes. I idolized running backs in the NFL like Eddie George and began honing my skills at the early age of six in the hopes that it would serve as my family’s ticket out of poverty. Those hopes seemed validated when I earned a spot on the University of Florida’s renowned Gator football team, but as fate would have it, my hopes were short lived. Like many before me, my body gave way before my determination, and a series of knee surgeries sidelined me from playing the game I grew up loving. Nonetheless, I was able to pivot my focus and become a leader at my university and the first person from my family to graduate from one. Early in my sophomore year I set my sights on a career in law, founded a successful philanthropic student organization, became the Vice President of my fraternity, and gained a directorship for the Interfraternity Council, all while working two part-time jobs to finance my education. Shortly thereafter however, a series of tragic events pushed me away from my anticipated course.
My grandmother was placed in critical condition after being attacked by a Rottweiler, and sadly, was given a tainted blood transfusion which gave her Hepatitis C. Faced with a frightening necessity to assist my family, I began commuting over two hours to my hometown to help my mother care for my twin sisters and terminally ill grandmother. As the only man in my house, it has and always will be my responsibility to help my family when they are in need. Whether taking my grandmother to appointments, or working more to help with the costs of supporting the family, I helped in every way I could. But, I learned a hard lesson of a shortsighted view on life; I could only focus on extinguishing the fires in front of me, and as a result I began failing in my duties as a student, ultimately a duty to myself. Then another blow was dealt when my grandfather, the single most influential man in my life, entered into kidney failure and eventually died later that year.
Albeit my good intentions, going home turned out to be a nearsighted decision as I subsequently lost all of my scholarships and had to work full-time for tuition. I came to the disappointing conclusion that I was not an ideal candidate for law school, and in a way I wrote myself off for a paycheck-to-paycheck life. After graduating, I did just that: worked a full-time day job and a part-time night job just to stay afloat. That time off reminded me of my childhood and forced me to think long and hard about the kind of life I wanted to lead. Ultimately, I came to recognize the responsibility I have as a young educated black man in America, not only to my family but my community as well. Young minority children lack professional role models–not just because systemic issues are at play, but also because so many of us write ourselves off too early. We buy into the idea that our destiny is predetermined, and ignore our duty to become the very role models we so desperately need.
My story is not uncommon, remarkable, or unexpected. Nor will I be the last person to tell a similar tale. However, that is precisely why I am compelled to pursue a career in law, one of the few professions that can help others overcome barriers to upward mobility in a single lifetime. It is imperative that those who serve and protect the theory of justice are individually reflective of the communities they represent, especially in our ever-changing society that struggles to bear the burden of divisiveness, genuine understanding, and empathy. Diversity–not solely different ethnic backgrounds but also diversity of thought–is necessary to move forward as a unified legal community. I want to live and serve as a reminder to my community that minorities can aspire to be more than just football players, rappers, or inmates. I will work tirelessly so that one day I can say with certainty that I deserve to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me.
Marcus Nemeth is a 1L at Boston College Law School. He is a 1L section representative for the Law Student Association, a BC Law Ambassador, and a member of the Black Law Student Association. Feel free to reach out to Marcus with any questions about his experiences, diversity, or BC Law in general. Comment here or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.