When Marshawn Young introduced himself on his first day of pre-university, on his way to studying law, a question from one classmate at the back of the room hit the 18-year-old like a tonne of bricks. Unimpressed that he had graduated from Christiana High School in Manchester, the girl asked, "What are YOU doing here?"
"She thought I didn't belong because everyone was from traditional high schools and elite families. However, I did not let that dim my light. I worked my way to the top and had the top internal assessment in law," he told the Jamaica Observer of his stint at The University of the West Indies (UWI).
Today the 31-year-old is a junior attorney in the Office of General Counsel for Florida, and he was also accepted into the Immigration Justice Corps Fellowship to work on immigration cases.
His success has been fuelled by hard work. Never one to choose the easy way out, Young made the unorthodox move of pursuing two programmes simultaneously.
"I did the craziest thing; I was enrolled in a PhD programme at the Nova Southeastern University simultaneously with my Juris Doctor [JD, a graduate-entry professional degree in law] programme. I studied for my JD at daytime and PhD at night time. I am now in the final stages of finalising my PhD," he said.
His focus is on conflict analysis.
Though still a PhD student, he has been making a name for himself. In May 2023, as he did in December 2022, Young was successful in two writ of mandamus that he fought in the US Federal District Courts. A writ of mandamus is a formal, legal document that commands a lower court or a government official to do something. Both writs pursued by Young dealt with immigration issues and these wins solidified his determination to practise immigration law in the future.
His confidence restored, Young now looks back at low points in his life and he marvels at how far he has come.
"My educational journey is built on failures. It was not all A's and distinctions. After sitting [the now discontinued] Grade Six Achievement Test [GSAT], my results did not get me into the traditional high school I desired. I passed for the Christiana High School and I was sad for days. I pleaded to my mother to get me a transfer and though she said she would, she did not. My mother Paulett Robinson [later] sat me down and told me, 'Bloom where you are planted'. That quote calmed me down and I did just what she told me," he told the Observer.
He placed last in his class in his first year of high school but by 10th grade he was top of his class. It was a feat he repeated until he finished high school.
"Thank God, I have the greatest mother who never failed to believe in me," said the native of Bethel Street in Greenvale, Manchester.
In addition to academic success at Christiana High, Young also shone as a leader over the years. He was a student counsellor, prefect, head boy and valedictorian.
Despite his female classmate's crude comment on his first day of pre-university at The UWI, he went on to do the pre-law programme and completed both units one and two of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) in the same year.
Like many Jamaicans intent on pursuing higher education, Young struggled financially. His father was not in his life from his basic school years and his mother struggled to care for him and his four siblings.
"But there was never a time we went to bed hungry. My mother taught us that the only way to get out of our struggle was through education. She did all she could to ensure we all had a formal education," he explained.
It also helped that his older brother selflessly stepped up to the plate.
"My big brother opted out of furthering his education. He saw the financial hardship that my mother was encountering and decided to work. My brother worked and helped my mother to take care of us. He became our father figure. His gesture was an added factor that compelled me to be who I am today," he added.
Even with his brother's help, Young knew he had to chip in. Each year he went on the work and travel programme in the US and did the National Youth Service to help finance himself. Other relatives also supported him. He eventually migrated to the US after completing first year at Norman Manley Law School.
With money coming in from two jobs, he put law school on hold. But friends' and relatives' frequent requests for legal advice soon had him doing research to help them. He decided it was time to go back to studying his first love â€“ law. He enrolled at Florida State University, College of Law and graduated in May 2023. His focus was on immigration issues.
"It was the best thing I ever did and the experience was superb. The staff and resources given helped my transition to the US legal system even better," he said.
Today, he is involved with several immigration coalitions and he is the founder of the New York-based United for Change Alliance Incorporation, which focuses on community and church projects.
In the short to mid-term, Young hopes to start a family and open his own law firm with a focus on family and immigration cases.