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Formerly Incarcerated Single Mom Passes NY Bar Exam on First Try

New York Daily News and Instagram/ @afrika.owes
Uplifting News

Teen Is Incarcerated for Helping Drug Gang - Years Later, She Passes the Bar Exam on First Try

"It's not just a win for me, it's a win for all of us."

According to the American Bar Association, a mere 2% of lawyers are Black women. This Black, formerly incarcerated, single mom is working to change that.

How a Former Felon Turned Her Life Around

Afrika Owes graduates with honors from Hobart & William Smith Colleges.

Afrika Owes graduates with honors from Hobart & William Smith Colleges.


Afrika Owes grew up in Harlem in a low-income, single-mother household. A straight-A student, she always dreamed of becoming a lawyer.

Those dreams were derailed, however, when at 17, she traded in her full-ride scholarship at an elite prep school for the slammer.

Arrested and charged with carrying guns for her then-boyfriend, the leader of a notorious Harlem drug gang, she pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and weapons possession. She was facing twenty-five years to life.

After serving six months on Riker’s Island and thanks to the New York Youthful Offender program, she was given a second chance.

She didn't waste it. During her five years of probation, she finished high school and graduated with honors from Hobart & William Smith Colleges, with a degree in Sociology, and minors in Africana Studies and Public Policy.

"It was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to figure out how I was going to get right back on track."

Afrika Owes via People

She more than got "back on track." She rumbled out of the station and went flying off the rails.

In 2017, she was awarded a Fulbright grant where she taught English and founded a Black women’s empowerment group in Cape Town, South Africa.

But she never forgot her dream. She applied to the Fordham University School of Law and was one of the less than 20% of applicants accepted.

And now? Despite overwhelming odds, that dream has officially become a reality.

Viral TikTok Has 3 Million People Cheering and Crying Right Along with Her


Thank you to my angels, my momma, my grandma. Thank you for my son, my brother, my family and my tribe. I’m beyond happy to join the ranks of the 2% of Black women Attorneys in the U.S. #singlemom #attorney #blackattorney #lawyer

In a now-viral TikTok, Afrika, 30, shares the heart-pounding moment she receives her bar exam results.

Nervously clutching photos of her four-year-old son and late mother and grandmother and with her little brother standing by, Afrika anxiously logs online.

After a couple of tense moments searching for the results, she finds them. Jumping up and down, she yells, "I passed! I passed! I passed! I knew I could do it!"

And promptly bursts into tears.

She overlays the emotional clip with: "POV: You're a formerly incarcerated single mom who passed the bar early on the first try."

She also captions it in part, "Thank you to my angels, my momma, my grandma. Thank you for my son, my brother, my family and my tribe."

Since its posting, it has garnered over 3 million views and nearly 33,000 comments from well-wishers praising her for her incredible achievement.

"Not only that but the NEW YORK BAR EXAM!!!??? FIRST TRY????? oh queen you are UNSTOPPABLE," writes one commenter.

Another writes, "'I knew I could do it' AND DID!"

Even Google got in on it, writing "You're going to accomplish great things."

Not to be outdone, YouTube's official account also commented, "Congratulations! you’re a true inspiration."

In an Instagram post, Afrika shares that she's "happy to join the ranks of the 2% Black women attorneys in the U.S and the less than 1% of formerly incarcerated black attorneys in the U.S."

She also expresses her gratitude for everything that brought her to this very moment.

"Thank you for every tear, every trial, every loss and every failure. Thank you for the wins, the blessings, and accomplishments."

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the pass rate was just 42%.

Afrika graduates in May. She plans to work in tax law at a big law firm and hopes to pursue a judicial clerkship in the future.

Not Letting Your Past Dictate Your Future

Formerly incarcerated Afrika Owes passes Bar exam and realizes dream of becoming a lawyer.


Afrika credits her late mom for inspiring her journey.

"Despite our circumstances, she always was an advocate for herself, [and] other people in the community and that was always a skill and a value that was embedded in me," she says. "So I knew I always wanted to go to law school for that reason."

And she believes that this milestone achievement isn't just about her.

"It's not just a win for me but it's a win for all of us."

Afrika Owes via Good Morning America

"It's a win for Black women attorneys who only make up less than 2% of the profession. For formerly incarcerated women who, less than 1% obtain graduate degrees. For single mothers. I think it's really important for people to see the image of a Black woman passing the bar with all of...everything I carry. But also know that I'm not carrying it alone."

As hard as she's worked to distance herself from her past and the stigma surrounding ex-convicts, she also believes in the power of personal experience.

She hopes that by sharing her story, people will tear down the barriers that prevent them from viewing their differences as strengths.

"It doesn't matter where you come from. It matters where you're going and how you get here today."

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