How Omar Newell's courage led to his Juris doctorate


Monday, September 05, 2011

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It is often said that courage isn't congenital, but is developed and nurtured. However, whether courage is innate or cultivated, if there were any doubts about its role in shaping one's life or in producing quality outcomes, those doubts should quickly disappear after meeting a remarkable Jamaican. His name is Omar Newell and his story and achievements are demonstrative of true Jamaican exceptionalism.

I met Omar Newell in New York shortly after fellow columnist Mark Wignall used one of his Sunday columns to encourage corporate Jamaica to sponsor Omar's education. I recall how, as I tried to get a sense of his conscience and convictions, he "commandeered" the conversation and left me with no option but to be fully appreciative of his depth of knowledge and impressed by the decency of his humanity.

When I asked Omar to share his philosophy on life, he leaned forward as only a barrister would in front of a witness, though unintimidatingly, and told a story that remains indelibly fresh in my mind. He said, "Chris, a few years ago, I did some deep soul-searching in an attempt to complete my personal mission statement. As I reviewed my past, and the challenges I overcame, I tried to reduce the experience to a succinct sentence with the hope of using it as the guiding principle throughout the rest of my life."

Omar continued, "And so, I thought about adopting one of the well-known clichés such as 'There's always a light at the end of the tunnel' or 'The darkest hour is just before the dawn', but neither seemed personal enough and would essentially reflect someone else's perspective on life. One evening, I decided to edit a draft of my mission statement, but suddenly remembered the story about how pearls are formed. Then, Eureka! I decided that beauty sometimes comes out of discomfort. Henceforth, my life has been guided by a simple, but deeply entrenched philosophy, which speaks to the fact that: 'I am comfortable with my humanity and although I know I will sometimes lose; I nevertheless embrace life's challenges, always looking for the lesson and for opportunities'."

Omar is quick to admit that he was sometimes daunted by the many travails of rural life and by the unstable home environment in which he spent his pre-teen years. Yet, none of this affected his love for, and commitment to family. In fact, Omar loves to share funny anecdotes about the nurturing qualities of his mom, dad and grandmother. He never skipped a beat in saying, "My mother worked hard to ensure that food was always on the table and impressed upon me the virtues of excelling academically, as well as underscoring the satisfying merits of having a good social conscience."

Omar has always been an early achiever; he passed the Common Entrance Examinations at age 10 to attend the St Mary High School, but then relocated to Portland, where he stayed with his paternal grandmother while attending Titchfield High School. It was while staying with his grandmother that Omar learned everything he possibly could about Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante and the importance of public service. He excelled at Titchfield High School and gives the school full credit for helping to shape his multi-dimensional focus and interests.

Omar's quest for excellence is definitely not driven by pure self-interest, quite the contrary. He is committed to public service and to the upliftment of his fellow citizens. Unsurprisingly, therefore, from his days at the National Housing Trust, Omar sought ways of giving back to his community. He created the "We Care-Adopt a Child Programme" that continues to help financially needy high school students while providing ongoing mentorship. But it didn't stop at the "We Care-Adopt a Child Program"; in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, he rallied staff support and collected food and other items to bolster Jamaica Red Cross's relief efforts.

Omar completed his undergraduate studies at Monroe College in New York, where he graduated with top honours. While there, he cofounded the Pre-Law Club and Debate Society, held leadership positions in several on-campus organisations. He has represented Monroe College at various events throughout the northeastern US, as well as in St Lucia. He was also the recipient of several scholarships, including the Monroe Rosenthal Scholarship for Academic Excellence, and the New Rochelle Bar Association Scholarship.

Unbounded by financial constraints, Omar drew heavily on the philosophy of Marcus Garvey; more pointedly on Garvey's teaching about self-confidence. Because Omar believes that "If you have no confidence in self you are twice defeated in the race of life, with confidence, you have won even before you've started", he took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) standardised test and obtained such an impressive score that nine top-tiered US universities accepted him, but with all things considered, he choose Northwestern University Law School in Chicago.

Having successfully completed the required courses, Omar was conferred with a Juris Doctorate in May. But his interest in economic development influenced his decision to travel to Russia to study the evolution and structure of the country's corporate laws. Omar is committed to the idea that innovation should be central to any economic development plan being developed in Jamaica, and used a Northwestern Scholastic Grant to conduct research on whether the island has the necessary institutions, infrastructure and culture to foster and support innovation.

To summarise, I find a powerful symbiosis between Omar's interest in law and Henry Thoreau's declaration that: "Whatever the human law may be, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest individual without having to pay the penalty for it." However, I am also convinced, deeply convinced, that Jamaica could benefit from Omar's skills, foresights and tremendous knowledge, let's give Omar all the support and encouragement we can, he deserves it.

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