Wave-Makers Recycling Their Success: From Making Waves Academy to UC Berkeley Law
by Bonnie Shea
Voices of Making Waves: Meet Leajé O.J. Morris, Juris Doctor of Law (2022), B.S. Political Science (2019)
“It is an absolutely amazing feeling to know that I have made history,” shared Leajé Morris, the first Making Waves Academy alumni to graduate from UC Berkeley School of Law and the first in her family to become a lawyer.
“It is truly unreal and is an absolute blessing. I would not be here without God, my mother, my Making Waves family, and the discipline that I have maintained throughout this process,” she shared. “It is very gratifying to know that I can inspire other young students of color, especially those who come from a similar background as I do.”
“Graduation is somewhat bittersweet because it marks the end of my academic career, but it also marks the end of the mission that I set out to complete,” Leajé shared.
Life-altering journey to Making Waves Academy
“My mother recognized that I was gifted at a young age and worked vigorously to enroll me in many programs,” shared Leajé, who had the opportunity to enroll in middle and high school at Making Waves Academy – a public charter school in Richmond, California – through its lottery process.
“I remember the day that my name was pulled during the lottery like it was yesterday,” shared Leajé, who added that the opportunity “would change my life trajectory in ways that we could not imagine.”
“This was truly one of the life-altering moments in my life because I know that I could have easily fallen through the cracks at a middle school within my suffering school district,” she shared.
“For many of my classmates, Making Waves was our safe haven. I remember having such a rich, disciplined, and enlightening experience,” said Leajé, who took Advanced Placement, or AP, courses, advocated for student activities, and developed the Black Students Association as well as the first Spirit Week on campus.
“My classmates and I were extremely close. We knew that the faculty had high expectations for us and wanted us to do our absolute best,” Leajé shared.
“The food was fresh, organic, and made with much love by Mr. Marioneaux [longtime food service manager], and the connections we made within our cohort have proven to be long-lasting.”
Hard work and perseverance
“I will never lose sight of the affirmation as it lives within me,” Leajé said of the Wave-Maker Affirmation, guiding principles for students, who are known as Wave-Makers. “’Success is achieved through hard work and perseverance’ and ‘We believe love and support are priceless’ are statements in the affirmation that truly ring true to this day.”
“I come from a low-income, single parent household, a neighborhood that was crime-ridden, and yet, I am still here,” she said. “This success was only achieved through hard work, perseverance, and the love and support that surrounded me along the way.”
Leajé’s mother, Pamela Hampton, shares a similar memory of her daughter becoming a Wave-Maker.
“Since the calling of that last number [during the lottery process], her journey and opportunities have been infinite. We have been very blessed and honored to be an alumni family of Making Waves,” she shared.
“Making Waves Academy prepared Leajé to compete with students from all over the world. The greats like current CEO Alton B. Nelson, Jr., early leaders Dr. Jeeva Roche-Smith and Dr. Irene St. Roseman, recent Senior School Director Dr. Evangelia Ward Jackson, and many others have played such an intricate part in my daughter’s success, and have continued to follow her successes to this day. They have always been part of our village, and for that we are humble and thankful,” shared Ms. Hampton, who was a very engaged parent and leader in the Making Waves community, including serving on the board for Making Waves Academy.
“Making Waves and its founder, John H. Scully, opened the door for all students to be able to receive a high-quality education,” Ms. Hampton added. “It was his vision to make the road to higher learning attainable and there are many other Making Waves Academy success stories in the archives.”
“Destined” for UC Berkeley with a passion for pursuing justice
Having been admitted to other universities like Pitzer College, UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, and USC, Leajé ultimately chose to attend UC Berkeley, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in political science before continuing her education at its school of law, where she earned her Juris Doctorate degree in the spring of 2022.
“I was destined to be a student at UC Berkeley, and I am so glad that my journey led me there,” Leajé said. “This would’ve been impossible without the strong foundation laid throughout my time as a Wave-Maker, along with my village and of course, my ‘Momma Bear.’”
Upon graduating from Making Waves Academy, Leajé entered Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as the College and Alumni Program, or CAP. The program supports students with scholarships and comprehensive one-to-one coaching for college, which includes planning for college, career, and life goals.
“It was an absolute blessing to have this support throughout my undergraduate years,” she said.
“At the time, I must admit that I was not thrilled to plan out the next five years, but it is truly important to take the time to complete the assignments and take your meetings seriously. I have no doubt that I have completed many of the goals listed on my five-year plan,” she said.
“I also appreciate Making Waves Foundation for lessening the financial burden so that I could truly focus on my studies. This not only alleviated the stress on us as students, but also on our families as well.”
Remaining a strong leader and advocate in college, Leajé served as co-president of the First-Generation Professionals Organization and as editor for the Berkeley Law Journal for African American Policy. She was also an active participant with the Law Students of African Descent as well as the Death Penalty Clinic on campus.
“I can honestly say that I graduated from law school with a newfound understanding of the law, and an eternal flame for the pursuit of justice,” she shared.
“I am extremely proud of my daughter Leajé,” shared Ms. Hampton. “There were many adversities she was faced with during this journey – racism, ostracization, bullying – but she kept her head up and faced each challenge with grace and poise. Her continuous perseverance never ceased as I watched her grow into becoming the caring, loving, kind, educated, intelligent, fierce young woman she is today.”
Becoming “the attorney my community needed me to be“
This fall, Leajé will begin her new career in law, as a litigation associate at a law firm in San Francisco.
“I am very thrilled to get started! I chose to pursue law school because I knew that I wanted to be an attorney at a very young age. As a young girl exposed to poverty, gun violence in my community, and a lack of access to legal services, I wanted to become the attorney that my community needed me to be.”
Passionate about advocating for others, Leajé said: “I had a strong passion for the law, and I wanted to learn more about our criminal justice system, so that I could bring what I learned back to my communities. In addition to this, I realized that race had a lot to do with who was protected by the law, and unfortunately, African Americans were seemingly at the bottom of this list.”
Noting how disappointing and traumatizing it was to continue experiencing the news of Black people being killed by police officers, Leajé shared that “during my junior year of high school, Eric Garner had been killed by a police officer, and there were lingering emotions regarding Oscar Grant’s murder as well.”
“Moments like these reminded me of the reasons I wanted to become an attorney, so that I could be the change that we all wanted and desperately needed to see,” she shared.
Giving back and recycling her success
“The thing which impressed me the most about Leajé, is that during her journey she continued to reach out to her community, and she served it well,” shared Leajé’s mother, Ms. Hampton.
“One of the most memorable accomplishments was when she orchestrated and facilitated a program which helped the underserved to prepare their applications to college,” Ms. Hampton shared, noting how Leajé organized workshops on campus, including providing meal and transportation, to help students from Richmond and Oakland applying to college.
“It was a phenomenal project, and the success was outstanding as many students were able to gain entry with scholarships to attend many universities, both private and public, including UC Berkeley,” Ms. Hampton said.
“Being a Wave-Maker means always giving back,” Leajé shared, adding advice for fellow Wave-Makers. “To all of the Wave-Makers: Believe in yourself and know that you are equipped with the knowledge and the power necessary to reach the finish line.”
This Voices of Making Waves storytelling series spotlights the voices and journeys of the students, alumni, teachers, coaches, and more members of our Making Waves Foundation and Making Waves Academy communities — and highlights our work in creating educational opportunities that change lives.
ABOUT MAKING WAVES FOUNDATION
With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating early 1,200 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 600 Wave-Maker alumni.
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