Florida A&M University second-year law student Rachel Smith, a recent recipient of the Joel Stern Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Pipeline Scholarship, won $10,000 for her diligent work and dedication.
Smith was raised in Plant City, Florida, with her four siblings, grandparents and single mother. The strain of relying on a single mother growing up was extremely difficult for her and her family.
“Life was a bit chaotic. I come from a single-family household, with my mother raising four children on her own. After some conflict, we moved down to Plant City, where we stayed with my grandparents, and they were like my parent figures,” Smith said.
Not only was it tough living in a single parent household, but school became another struggle for Smith. The never-ending story of being the only Black girl in school was another routine coincidence. Having that experience was just another daunting task.
“I had a rough time going through secondary school because I went to a very predominantly white elementary, middle school and high school. But I found some peace when I went to undergrad,” Smith said.
FAMU was a decision Smith did not regret. In the presence of her fellow Black peers, she felt at home and at peace. Smith attended FAMU originally to be a photojournalist. Life brought so many emotions and she wanted to capture them all. In the summer of 2020, a horrific event took place, the death of George Floyd and his memorial service occurred some days after. This sparked an interest for Smith in becoming a lawyer.
“I have always been empathic, sympathetic and sensitive and I wanted to challenge that. So, I decided to do photojournalism and documentary work. And after covid hit, I decided to go to law school after the George Floyd memorial service. I was very inspired,” Smith said.
Over the summer, Smith stumbled on the application for the Joel Stern Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Pipeline Scholarship through a referral from a lawyer she met at her internship.
“I had an internship in Chicago over the summer and there I got to meet a whole bunch of attorneys and one of the attorneys knows how hard it is for HBCU attorneys to be recognized. She mentioned that I should apply to the Joel Stern Scholarship,” Smith said.
Coming out of her summer, Smith was expecting an offer from her summer internship. What she wanted she did not receive, but something significantly more for Smith was on the horizon.
“I just got rejected by a big law firm and one that I really wanted to go to. Everyone else was getting accepted. At that time I was talking with my aunt and I was telling them I didn’t get anything. I got a call from Mrs. Allen, a scholarship coordinator and she said, “You got it!” Smith said. “I was super excited and I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. This is the first time I won this amount of money.”
With her mother and grandfather becoming ill. Money for Smith’s college tuition will eventually become slim to none. So by receiving a large sum of money from the Joel Stern Scholarship, she was also able to relieve her family of a heavy burden.
“My mom became sick during my first semester of law school. I saw someone transition from having their own career for themselves. My mom was at her peak and got sick and had to go on disability. The same thing happened to my grandfather, in my second semester of law school. I had no one to rely on. I think they feel very relieved that they don’t have to figure out how I can pay my rent,” Smith said.
Although Smith has encountered obstacles, she remains confident that what is for her is for her. Life will have positive things coming toward you and everything that is meant to be will happen.