Jamal Sowell

Jamal was born in Orlando, Florida, but with a dad in the Army, you could say he's from everywhere.

After his father's retirement, Jamal's family returned to Orlando, where he attended high school. In 2000, he enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville and became involved in several campus and community organizations. These activities laid the groundwork for his election as student body president from 2004–2005 — an achievement notable for two reasons. It was the last time a candidate from outside the university's Greek system "beat the establishment."

Description of the video:

So, I was born in Orlando, Florida. But my dad was in the Army, so we moved around the country for several years until he retired when I was in middle school and we settled back down in Florida. Where I was from, unless you were an athlete or a guy who was, you know, just super, you know, tough, it was very hard to stand out. People would either see you as different and for my mother, we were very involved in the church, so we were seen as church boys. We had to dress up. There were certain things that we just couldn't do. So I think that, amongst the youth, that was seen as different. I met a youth pastor back home in Orlando, Florida named Justin Felton (sp?), and one day he told me, he said, "I see greatness in you." And I think that really made a difference in how I saw myself. You have to make sure everyone is included, because you never know someone's life path. That experience in high school, of being shy and lonely, that really taught me how to see when someone may be going through that same thing. Being in the Marine Corps for several years, going to Afghanistan and now being in law school really gave me the desire to fight for those without a voice, to speak for those who don't have the same access or the same chances that I have had. Things that help me be actively inclusive is really just speaking, having an interaction with people with different backgrounds, students on campus, whether it's a nod or a smile. IU is a very diverse school with people from around the world, and I love that. And what makes it the best, from my experience, is because the fact that people who come from the West Coast, East Coast, other countries, they know the bigger vision of all of us being Hoosiers.

Jamal's evolution from shy kid to confident, self-assured man was helped along by a mentor who once told him, "I see greatness in you."

Jamal graduated from University of Florida with a degree in religion and headed to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for graduate school. Not only did he earn a master's degree in education while acting as a student adviser and career counselor, he also enlisted in the Marines. It wasn't long before he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he saw combat duty and rose to the rank of captain.

In 2011 Jamal — by then a decorated officer — left the U.S. Marine Corps and returned to Gainesville, taking on a number of roles for the University of Florida, including adviser to the president, liaison to government officials and the university's board of trustees, director of special projects and outreach officer to the African-American community.

He also served as a mentor who stressed inclusivity to students and worked to give a voice to those who couldn't speak for themselves. Three years later, this passion led him to IU's Maurer School of Law, where he's currently pursuing his law degree on a Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarship.