Jamaican woman leaves successful job, extended family to attend BYU law school

Former Jamaican Ministry of Justice employee Crystal Powell shares her story of coming to J. Reuben Clark Law School in Utah.
Former Jamaican Ministry of Justice employee Crystal Powell left Jamaica to attend the J. Reuben Clark Law School in Provo, Utah. As the only Latter-day Saint in her family, Powell left behind loved ones to fulfill her dreams to go to law school. (Maddi Driggs)

Crystal Powell’s quest to come to the United States began at age 16 when she climbed into a taxi and headed back to her home in Mandeville, Jamaica. Two young men in white shirts greeted her in the taxi. Crystal Powell met with the missionaries for a few short weeks before she was baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Unlike many immigrants from the Caribbean, Powell left behind both job security and blooming familial relationships back in Jamaica to come to Utah. She moved here for one reason: law school.

“I always wanted to go to law school. It was just a matter of time,” Powell said, who received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at The University of The West Indies in 2007. “But I had my son right before I graduated from college and I didn’t want to commit to law school when he was so young.”

Instead, Powell began working for the Ministry of Justice in Jamaica as the executive assistant to the Minister of Justice offering administrative support, monitoring national legislation programs and writing political speeches. She then became the special projects coordinator for the ministry, organizing projects in justice reform and policy support.

Powell said she enjoyed seeing the impact her work had not only a macro level, but also seeing the impact on individuals in real time.

While serving as head of the secretariat, the then 26-year-old Powell fulfilled one of her dreams when she was asked to represent her country at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York for the UN Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking.

“The minister was sick and the Permanent Secretary was tired of traveling, so I guess it went down the line to me,” Powell said.

Powell outside of the United Nations General Assembly in 2013.
Crystal Powell attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in 2013. Here, Powell spoke in behalf of Jamaica in a national discussion to combat human trafficking. (Camesha Powell)

This was a turning point for Powell. She applied for a few jobs at the UN, but was denied because she lacked a Juris Doctorate degree. Powell said she prayed to God and felt his answer: “Now is the time to go and get your law degree.”

Powell was accepted into multiple law schools in the U.S. including a few in New York — where some of her family members currently live. When Powell chose to come to Utah instead of New York she said her family, who are not members of the LDS Church, questioned why she was moving somewhere so far away.

As the youngest daughter in a family of eight girls and two boys, Powell said moving to the Beehive State was a challenge.

“Everyone has an opinion of what you should do with your life. They all have advice for you. They all want to tell you what to do so you have all this questioning. But I knew that coming here was the right decision,” Powell said.

Despite the disfavor of her family, Powell quit her job with the Ministry of Justice on July 29, 2015, and the next day took the long trek to Utah with her eight-year-old son Reuben.

Powell, now age 29, said she enjoys embracing new cultures. Aside from Utah stores lacking her favorite Jamaican spices, adjusting culturally has not been difficult for her.

“What has been difficult is feeling homesick,” Powell said. “Homesick for my friends, because its really hard to get to know new people when you have such a hectic schedule, both in law school and your personal life.”

Between juggling a rigorous first year law school schedule and caring for her son, Powell has also joined the Genesis Group, a group of black Latter-day Saint members who meet in Salt Lake City on Sundays. She said joining has helped her to feel more socially involved.

Powell’s sacrifices to come all the way to Utah are valued by faculty and students at the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

Assistant Dean of Admissions Gayla Sorenson encourages non-traditional students to come to law school. She said she was surprised by how many applicants have been out of school for a significant period of time.

“It was exciting because there are some really great, interesting stories about where their paths have taken them and what’s bringing them back to law school,” Sorenson said.

Powell is one of many-non traditional students at the J. Reuben Clark Law School who are right in the middle of raising their families. According to Sorenson, a great example of someone who is bringing different perspectives, work experience and life experiences to her class.

Powell said she is grateful for her previous opportunities that helped her develop the intellect, mental stamina and energy required for law school. She is also grateful for her son’s acceptance of her career goals allowing her to spend time away from home.

Crystal Powell and her son Reuben enjoying a Jamaican summer.
Crystal Powell and her son, Reuben, enjoy their last beach trip together in Kingston, Jamaica before moving to Utah. Crystal and Reuben maintain a close relationship, despite their busy schedules. (Camesha Powell)

Powell said her son, Reuben, is very independent, which she is very grateful for. “The Lord blessed me with a child who allowed me to be a good mom,” she said.

In addition to her love of the legal world and service, Powell enjoys fashion, music and art.

Powell is the founder of Dresses For Dreams, a clothing line where all proceeds are donated to underprivileged women.

Regarding the official launch of her clothing line Powell said, “I know its something the Lord wants me to do, I’m not just not sure if its something he wants me to do right now.”

Powell’s ultimate legal goals include being involved in public international law. And she is committed to these goals. But, according to Powell, one of her greatest strengths and weaknesses are her many talents and passions.

“The future is a combination of preparation and opportunity. Sometimes you can have a trajectory of your life not the same as what the Lord plans for you,” she said.” I believe so long as I’m anxiously engaged now, I don’t have to do everything in the present moment.”

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