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.
The second chance at life proved to be a huge motivator. Getting anything lower than a grade of B is unacceptable to the business major. “Business is involved in every aspect of your life,” the 25 year old said.
With four classes to go until graduation, Paddie is excited. He said distractions are everywhere for college students and classwork is demanding. At times, he said, he literally cried while studying, not understanding a subject or the professors. He’d meditate and asked the Creator for understanding.
“Finance, Ratios and Stats are tough courses, “he admitted.
“Jamal was a great student, he has an incredible analytical mind, incredible thirst for knowledge and he’d be a fantastic lawyer, or great at whatever profession he chooses,” said Judge Robert Rigsby, who taught Paddie at Bowie State.
And while his academic career seems to be moving in the right direction, there remain serious challenges.
While studying one night in September, he received a call that his childhood friend, Matthew Bovell, who was like a brother to Paddie, had been murdered. Devastated, Paddie offered to serve as a pall bearer.
Paddie said such violence against black men confirms what people of other races want to believe about African American men – that they are thugs. He is determined to reverse that image.
“Black men are supposed to be negative hustlers, according to society,” he says. He reminds his friends what they’re capable of, and that he was miraculously given a chance to help others. Paddie, who also has been shot at multiples times, encourages African American men to raise their standards.
While Paddie is interested in the hotel industry and hopes to eventually earn a doctorate, he said his primary interest now is teaching young black men.
Philosophically, Paddie said, education is vital, teaching is vital and that a good teacher will create great students. But more importantly, he said, parents are our first teachers.
His mother, JoAnne Williams, a registered nurse, is elated that she stuck by her son through the tough years. “The future is getting brighter for us, and Jamal is living his dream.”