Ieshia Champs never could have imagined what she would achieve when she grew up, as she bounced around family homes, entered into the foster care system, and had her first child at age 19. But nearly 14 years and a total of five kids later, this mom is about to graduate from law school after a difficult journey — and she says her faith led her through it all.
The 33-year-old, who is originally from Port Arthur, Texas, has been through a lot. However, from the looks of her beautiful familyin her recent graduation photos, it seems like the more trying times might have been worth her consequent path. From leading her to Houston and to a church that provided her with guidance, as well as the people she would quickly call family, Champs is now seeing that her earlier struggles are coming full circle. And it all goes back to one Child Protective Services caseworker, Gail Covington, who picked her and her siblings up when Champs was just around 7 years old.
“I’ll never forget it,” Champs tells Yahoo Lifestyle, of the moment Covington brought them to a home outside of the chaos that the little girl was used to. “I cried so hard because I missed my familiar surroundings, even though they were horrible. And one day, I woke up in time for school. I actually had a bed to sleep in, and we had brand-new clothes on the floor. It was then that I realized my friends had no idea about this type of life.”
What Champs explains as the “drug-filled environment” where she lived with her mom was the norm for everyone in their neighborhood. Once she had an idea of another type of lifestyle, she began to wonder what she could do about all of the people left behind without help. Her teachers introduced her to the idea of becoming an attorney and providing a service similar to what Covington provided Champs. However, she would eventually return to a toxic environment soon thereafter.
Being adopted by a maternal uncle, Champs says that she and her siblings eventually ended up back in an apartment with their mom — which ended up leading her down a bad path. “We really didn’t have much guidance,” Champs explains. “My sister ended up having her first baby at 14. I ended up dropping out of school my 10th or 11th grade year, and I ran across my kid’s father. We ended up having our first child, and then we had a second. And it just kept going.”
It was when Champs had three children and a fourth on the way that her life began to change. Her sister enticed her to attend a service at the Ministers for Christ Christian Center in Houston, led by Bishop Richard and Louise Holman, who she now refers to as dad and mom. Champs recalls a service where Louise, who serves as a prophetess, called the mother of five up to the front of the church and offered up information about her future. Louise said that God wanted Champs to go back to school to get her GED, so she could eventually follow her dream of becoming a lawyer — a dream that Champs had never shared with Louise.
“She told me that God would take care of me,” Champs says of Louise’s encouragement. “During that same year — it was 2009 — I ended up having a house fire, I lost everything that I had. I got laid off from my job, the father to two of my children died of cancer while I was seven months pregnant, I literally tried to kill myself, and I ended up going back to get my GED.”
Champs credits the inspiration and prayers from the Holmans for her getting an associate’s degree in paralegal studies at Houston Community College, and a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston. Both degrees eventually brought her to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, where she’ll be graduating in May. Although receiving her Juris Doctor degree was far from easy, she commends her five children for making it possible.
Giving her time to do both her work and rest, Champs says that her eldest son, who is now 14, has been amazing at taking the other four children — ranging in age from 5 to 12 — to a quiet place in the house to do activities or eat a snack. In order to honor this commitment, she decided to include them all in her graduation photos, which were taken by Bishop Richard.
“I’ve been attending Ministers for Christ for about 10 years, and [Richard] is not just my bishop,” Champs says. “He’s a professional photographer, and he knows my story. So I wanted him to be very active in that.”
Now, as the bishop’s photos circulate around the internet, Champs’s older children are beginning to understand what “going viral” means. However, Champs remains focused on what she wants to do with her doctorate once she passes the bar exam, which is to become a general attorney with a specialization in family law and juvenile law, and eventually become a judge.
“I feel like with what I’ve been through as a child and in my upbringing, I can probably help some of these juveniles who may feel like there’s no hope for them,” Champs explains. “I want to be the one to fight for those children who are in these horrible living arrangements. To try to help them reconcile with the family, or if not, give them the same opportunity that I had.”