PBSC alum among inaugural Marshall-Motley Scholars
Victor Olofin, a Palm Beach State College alumnus with a passion for civil rights and criminal justice reform, will get a full ride to law school after being among 10 chosen for the inaugural cohort of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program.
The groundbreaking program, launched in January by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, will create a pipeline of next generation civil rights lawyers in the South. It is named after Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court justice and LDF founder, and Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.
Olofin, who will attend Harvard Law School, says earning the scholarship is an opportunity of a lifetime, and he credits PBSC and the longstanding support of sociology professor Heather Naylor for helping him to reach his goals.
“It is an immense honor. It’s a humbling and surreal experience. To be honest, it still doesn’t feel real,” said Olofin, who appeared on GMA3: What You Need to Know, an hourlong news program airing on ABC.
According to a LDF news release, the scholars pledge to devote the first eight years of their career to practicing civil rights law in service of Black communities in the South. In exchange, they receive a full law school scholarship for tuition, room and board and incidentals. The scholars also receive summer internships with national and regional civil rights organizations with offices in the South focused on racial justice, a two-year postgraduate fellowship at civil rights law organizations and access to special training sponsored by the LDF and the National Academy of Sciences.
“We received hundreds of impressive applications after launching the MMSP earlier this year, and it was difficult reducing that number to the 10 scholars we have selected. It is clear by the popularity of the MMSP that our nation is replete with passionate individuals seeking to create change,’’ LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill said.
Olofin, who looks forward to continuing doing the work that he has already begun, has humble beginnings. The South Florida native was raised in Loxahatchee. He graduated from Seminole Ridge High School in 2014 and then enrolled at Palm Beach State College that year at the recommendation of his mother and one of his sisters, who are both PBSC alumnae. One of four children, including an older brother who is a Cornell-trained attorney, Olofin had always been interested in law. The deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, which sparked nationwide protests, fueled Olofin’s interests in criminal justice reform and civil rights law.
“I knew that if we wanted accountability, we would have to get it for ourselves, and one of the best ways to do that is through law. I definitely had it on my mind when I enrolled in Palm Beach State College, but the institutional support I had there made those dreams concrete,’’ he said. “I had professors like Professor Naylor who saw my potential and who brought it out. They fostered an environment of community, of higher education and of quality and affordable education that kind of spoke to me.”
Olofin was so inspired by his first social science class with Naylor that he took two more with her. She encouraged him, and they developed a bond. He worked harder to overcome the academic challenges he had faced in high school. He was forced to sit out on his high school wrestling sport at one point when his GPA dipped below 2.0.
“I was very vocal in her classes. Her classrooms are very interactive and collaborative. It was just a great experience. I developed a good student-professor relationship with her, and we’ve kept in touch throughout the years. She’s just a phenomenal educator, and I’m so grateful for what she does, and what she’s meant for me in my career,” Olofin said.
Naylor nominated Olofin for his first academic scholarship, the Alfred P. Meldon Excellence in Education Award, as a student at the Palm Beach Gardens campus. Earning that scholarship gave Olofin another motivational boost to continue to excel even while working 25 to 30 hours a week at area restaurants.
He graduated summa cum laude with his Associate in Arts degree from PBSC in 2016 and transferred to Florida State, where he graduated magna cum laude in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and criminology. While he continued to juggle work and school at FSU, he says thanks to the foundational support he received at PBSC, he was prepared to get involved in organizations and community service.
“The education that I got at Palm Beach State I was able to build off of it when I was at Florida State. I was still working 25 to 30 hours a week, but after Palm Beach State, I was more prepared to handle a lot more. I became involved at Florida State. I was still working trying to support myself, and I was still taking a full class schedule, but I was more developed at that point.”
After graduating from FSU, he worked for a private law firm in Atlanta to gain experience before applying to law school. On weekends he also volunteered for the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, where he assisted attorneys in helping low-income Atlantans with landlord tenant disputes. During the height of the pandemic last year, he moved to New Orleans to work as a paralegal for Gaining Opportunity from Arrest to Reentry (GOFAR), where he and his team help formerly incarcerated people in Louisiana get help and resources to mitigate the consequences of conviction as they rebuild their lives.
Olofin applied to 15 law schools and was accepted to most of them but being named a Marshall-Motley Scholar helped him decide on Harvard. He turned to Naylor for recommendation letters to law school as well as for the Marshall-Motley Scholarship.
“I think that scholarship made it a much easier decision,’’ he said.
Naylor, who has taught at Palm Beach State for 23 years, said she knew Olofin was a shining star. “I can’t express to you how proud I am of him. This is just the beginning,’’ she said. “In this dark period that we’ve been in, I look to students like Victor and say there’s still hope.’’