Formerly Incarcerated Mom Passes Bar Exam On First Try. Her Reaction To The News Goes Viral

Facebook: Afrika Owes

Afrika Owes recently learned the great news that she passed the New York State Bar exam on her first attempt.

Owes’ reaction, which she posted to social media, has garnered almost 3 million views on TikTok since April 25. In the short video, “Owes is seen logging online to check her February exam results with her brother standing behind her and her best friend on the phone with her in support. Next to her are photos of her 4-year-old son and late mother and grandmother,” ABC News reports. “After reading her result, Owes, 30, yells out, ‘I passed! I passed!’ before jumping up and then bursting into tears.”

Article continues after video.

The text that is overlaid on the video reads, “POV: You’re a formerly incarcerated single mom who passed the bar early on the first try.” “Thank you to my angels, my momma, my grandma. Thank you for my son, my brother, my family and my tribe,” the caption states, in part.

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the overall pass rate for the most recent exams in the state of New York was 42%, and there was a 59% passage rate for first-time takers.

For Owes, this is the culmination of a lifelong goal. “I’ve always dreamed of going to law school,” she told “Good Morning America” (GMA). Growing up watching her now-deceased mother, Karen Owes, serve as an advocate for community members in Harlem, she has always recognized “the importance of knowing the law, whether or not you’re a lawyer.”

But her path to achieving this lofty accomplishment was an academic journey unparalleled by most law students. When Owes was 17 years old, she was arrested in connection with a gang-related conspiracy case, according to a 2011 New York Times report. She later pled guilty to the charges of conspiracy and weapons possession.

Owes told “GMA,” “From that, I only served six months on Rikers Island and then I had a few years of probation…And then after successfully completing two years of college, which was a condition of my release, I was taken off of probation. I was adjudicated as a youthful offender.”

During her sentence, she studied for the GED and SAT. After being released, Owes completed high school high school and then two years of college before finishing probation.

“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,” Owes told PEOPLE. And this inspiring mom stayed true to her word, graduating “cum laude from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in New York, with a degree in Sociology and minors in Africana Studies and Public Policy.”

Post college, Owes headed to law school, where she became a student leader at Fordham Law. She has served as president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) during the 2022-2023 school year, and is currently the director of diversity of the Student Bar Association. After graduation this May, Owes is excited about starting off her legal career in New York City as a tax attorney for a firm. Despite what is sure to be a demanding schedule, the 30-year-old plans to continue being involved and fighting for social justice initiatives in the community.  

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