Jamal Paddie rides four buses a day to get to his classes at Bowie State University in Maryland. In some ways, it is the smallest challenge he has had to overcome on the road to success.
Raised in a tough, predominantly Latino neighborhood in Hyattsville, Maryland, Paddie has been a fighter nearly all his life.
In 1998, his father, Leroy Paddie, was murdered shortly before the family relocated to Mitchellville, Maryland.
By high school, Jamal Paddie was acting out and was expelled during his junior year for fighting.
As a Seventh Day Adventist, Paddie, a natural athlete, said he had no outlet for his talent or to blow off steam because church services were on Saturdays, the day most school sports activities are scheduled.
“I had so much to offer in sports, and [I] wanted to play football,” Paddie said.
“Jamal was one of my brighter students, returned to school after that incident and graduated on time in 2005,” Bruce Edwards, administrator at Charles Herbert Flowers High School said.
Following graduation, Paddie worked at a Nordstrom factory for two years, saved his money and purchased a 2005 Honda. In 2008, he enrolled at Bowie State University, but soon fell prey to a sense of hopelessness, failing grades and drug use.
His drug use landed him in the Prince George’s County Drug Court Program, supervised from 2007- 2011 by the Honorable Judge Hassan El- Amin, the first Muslim judge in Maryland. Paddie successfully completed the program in January 2012.
“Paddie was sincere and focused. He participated while in college. Very few were in his academic category. He took advantage of the program ….,” Amin said.
That and surviving a severe blow to the head during a car crash appeared to trigger a spiritual awakening.
“I wasn’t ready to die,” Paddie told BlackAmericaWeb.com.