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The fifth-graders at Cornelius Elementary School listened intently as their classmate’s mother spoke to them on Career Day recently. Khassidy’s mom, Ieshia Champs, was telling students to stay in school if they want to become all the things they had just told her they want to be—a brain surgeon, veterinarian, basketball player, teacher.
“You can’t do anything without school, nothing at all,” Champs said. “What you are learning here in school every day is going to shape your entire future.”
Despite dropping out of school and raising five children as a single mother, Champs recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall Law School. It took her 14 years, but she did it, and she is inspiring others to pursue their dreams.
Champs has been interviewed by numerous publications and TV stations, including People, USA Today, ABC 13, Click2Houston, and Fox 26. A photo in her graduation robe with her five children has gone viral, and she is an internet sensation.
“Dream big,” she told the students. “Write down your goals and check them off as they come to pass. Whatever you are going through, do not let that stop you from dreaming.”
Champs is a product of HISD schools, having attended Albert Thomas Middle School and Sterling High School. She is from Port Arthur, Texas, where Child Protective Services removed her and her siblings from her drug-addicted mother when she was only 7. Her mother’s brother took the children in for a while, but they ended up in the foster-care system. When Champs was in eighth grade, her coach let her live with her, but during the first two years of high school, she was homeless, staying with friends. “Everything I owned fit in a paper sack,” she said.
After 10th grade, Champs dropped out of high school and moved in with a friend. A few weeks later, she began working at MacDonald’s, one of many dead-end jobs. Eventually she found Ministers for Christ Christian Center, where Bishop Richard and Louise Holman took her under their wing. One morning in 2009, Louise told Champs that God had told her to tell Champs to get her GED. Incredulous, Champs said, “How in the world am I going to do that?”
The pastor directed her to Open Door Mission Houston, which is devoted to helping the homeless in Texas. Champs took high school classes, passed her test, and received her GED, all of which was supported by the mission.
Then Louise told her that God wanted her to go to college next. Again, Champs thought she was crazy. “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” Louise responded. Champs was doubtful, but she enrolled at Houston Community College, doing part-time work to support her family. Eventually she earned an associate degree as a paralegal. By this time, she was used to the sacrifices required to be in school, so she enrolled at the University of Houston–Downtown. A few years later, she earned her bachelor’s degree in applied administration.
In 2009, when Champs was pregnant with her fourth child, she literally experienced some sort of tragedy every month, from losing everything in a house fire and being laid off by Sprint to watching the father of two of her children die from cancer when she was seven months pregnant and her mother suffering a stroke. Overwhelmed, she actually tried to kill herself, but she just couldn’t do it. Partly it was due to her children. Today, Champs has five children: Khassidy; E’mani, a girl in PreK; and Kaleb, a boy in second grade are at Cornelius Elementary, while Davien is in seventh grade at Hartman Middle, and David Jr. is a 10th-grader at Chavez High School.
During law school, Champs worked for the Harris County Attorney’s Office as a paid intern, representing children in court. On May 11, she graduated from law school, fulfilling a dream she had in elementary school when an attorney came to their class and talked to the students about how lawyers can help people.
In May, Champs was invited on the Steve Harvey show, where he presented her and her children with a vacation in Jamaica, as well as $10,000 that she will use to begin paying off her student loans.
Champs is currently studying for the bar exam and looking for a job. She hopes to work in family and juvenile law.