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UH-D alumna, mother of five graduates from law school

“We did it!” E’mani Smith, left, Khassidy Davis, David Jernigan, Ieshia Champs, Davien Jernigan and Kaleb Davis celebrate their seven-year journey through law school that took their combined effort to complete, as Champs graduates magna cum laude from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. | Courtesy of Richard Holman Photography

Whether it’s a mock trial composed of her five children or a photo shoot arranged by close friends, Ieshia Champs has received unwavering support in her quest to be appointed to a federal court — a necessity after receiving a lifetime supply of adversity, such as having to balance law school with the responsibility of raising five kids.

Champs, a 33-year-old mother of five and University of Houston Downtown alumna, will graduate from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law with honors on Saturday after overcoming relentless struggles.

“I know she’s on her way,” said Louise Holman, Champs’ confidant. “She’s going to be an excellent lawyer, and she’s going to go on from there to be a judge.”

Champs’ story begins in Beaumont, where she was placed in foster care after being taken from her parents. From there, she went on to live with her uncle in Houston only to return to her mother later on. After being evicted from their home, Champs bounced from house to house for a few years, eventually dropping out of high school and becoming a mother at 19.

Champs’ dream of becoming a lawyer originated from her childhood experiences.

“I was in foster care one day, and I realized we had clothes, a bed to sleep in, like, things were so much different from where we had come from,” Champs said. “I thought of all my friends whom I had left and realized that they didn’t know this type of life existed, so I kind of just had this idea of how can I help these people.”

As a result of her experiences, Champs has a special interest in family and juvenile law because she relates to many of the situations pertaining to that area of practice, she said.

Back-to-school prophecy

Louise Holman and Bishop Richard Holman, her pastors, built a strong relationship with Champs soon after she dropped out and became a mother.

“She came, I think, nine years ago,” Louise Holman said. “She came to us because her children’s father was sick. She came to us so we’d pray for him.”

The soon-to-be attorney lost Casey Davis, the father of two of her children, to stage four cancer, Louise Holman said. This happened soon after Champs joined Ministers for Christ, Louise and Richard Holman’s church.

She buried her husband at the church.

Richard Holman, the photographer who took Champs’ viral picture, credits Champs’ spiritual strength, which helped her reach her goals, to her now closer relationship with God. He also shed light on his wife’s special relationship with Champs. He said his wife has been a mentor for Champs, especially when she faces life’s disappointments.

Louise Holman, who encouraged Champs to go back to school, holds the title of prophetess, according to her husband.

“I said first of all, God told me to tell you that you have to go back to school. God told me you’re going to be a lawyer,” Louise Holman said. “She looked at me like I was crazy, (but) she did exactly that.”

With Louise Holman’s support, Champs received her GED certificate after acing her exam. Louise Holman continued pushing her by encouraging her to enroll at Houston Community College, where she received her associate’s degree in paralegal studies in 2013. Then, she enrolled at UH-D and received a bachelor’s degree in applied administrations in 2015.

Louise Holman said Champs refused to apply to law school after graduating from UH-D, but she told Champs another prophecy: “God told me to tell you that your story is going to get you in, not your grades.”

The admissions counselor told Champs the same thing, Louise Holman said.

Combined effort

Champs’ seven-year law school track experienced the typical bump in the road, such as struggling to meet the financial demands of a legal education and five children, but Louise Holman took her under her wing. She’s there for Champs whenever she needs to talk about the kids — E’mani Smith, Kaleb Davis, Khassidy Davis, Davien Jernigan and David Jernigan — or when she needs to learn something, like how to cook.

She’s also there whenever Champs refuses to embrace her accomplishments, Louise Holman said.

“She didn’t even want to march,” Louise Holman said. “I said yeah, you’re going to march, and you’re going to take some graduation pictures.”

Champs experienced the same support at TSU, where teachers allowed her to bring her children to class when she needed a babysitter. Her professors even took her kids to their office while she attended class.

TSU’s Parents Attending Law School program helped students like her succeed in the academic setting, Champs said.

At home, her children set up mock trials to quiz her and made flashcards to test what she learned that day. David Jernigan, 14, helped by distracting his siblings whenever his mom felt ill or when he knew she was hiding and crying somewhere, Champs said.

She now faces a new challenge: the Texas Bar Exam. Champs said her responsibilities, such as work and her kids, limit her ability to study. At the same time, her study sessions for the bar exam make it difficult for her to spend time with her family, sometimes cutting her cooking to only a few times week.

However, people help Champs by giving her gift cards or donating to her GoFundMe page.

Champs, just days away from graduating and months away from practicing law, has one wish: rest.

“I just want to sleep for a couple of days, spend time with my kids for a couple of days with no interruptions at all,” Champs said. “That’s my celebration right there.”

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