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Ivy Pitts, stepping out on faith

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 23, 2015–We knew her as the editor of KREM Radio News – that was her position from 2008 to 2009 until she left to pursue studies at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill Barbados. Ivy Pitts, 37, had her sights set on becoming an attorney-at-law. She would successfully complete her studies there, receiving a Bachelor of Laws or LLB, and then moving on to the Norman Manley School of Law in Jamaica, graduating two years later, in September of this year, with her Legal Education Certificate.

On Friday, November 20, six years after shedding her editor’s hat for that of scholar – her objective was realized when she was officially called to the bar by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin at Belize City’s Supreme Court, in the presence of some members of her immediate family, a few close friends and her sponsors, attorney Cynthia Pitts and Senior Counsel Phillip Zuniga.

The somber scene where Pitts was officially welcomed to the Bar is a far cry from her childhood home – the notoriously famous city of South Central Los Angeles, now known as South L.A. She was born and raised there by Belizean parents, Leonora and Gilbert Pitts, who had migrated to the States in the 1970’s. Pitts lived most of her life in the States, but after returning to Belize, she reignited her desire to pursue, her studies further.

A devout member of the Seventh Day Adventist Faith, Pitts says she is primarily thankful to God for taking her through the struggles that threatened to overcome her during her years as a student in Barbados and Jamaica. It is nothing short of a miracle, Pitts said, that she was able to complete her studies successfully, in the time that she did.

In 2009, Pitts embarked on the first leg of studies that would take 3 years to successfully complete. She only had tuition and economic costs paid up for a year, through the Ministry of Education. She would have had to come up with the required money to cover the next two years on her own. She decided to step out on faith, and with a little savings she had put aside, she began her mission.

Even though the ministry had paid her tuition and economic costs for the first year, Pitts was still responsible for everything else, including accommodations, transportation and food. She said she was basically a hermit, not participating in any school activities or entertainment simply because she had to pinch every penny.

Her first year at Cave Hill was relatively smooth, with the most important aspects of her education paid up, but the next 2 years would be rough and bumpy. After she had successfully completed her first year, Pitts had to figure out how she would get through the remaining two years. She had applied for various forms of financial aid, but none of her applications had been successful.

One of her applications had been to a program that assists American Citizens in the diaspora. That application was to be submitted over the summer through the university, but Pitts went through her entire 2nd year waiting for a response. That response never came, because unbeknownst to her, her application had not been submitted for processing.

Pitts, incredibly, went onto her second year without having funds to pay UWI, a serious risk, as she would later confirm.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying as she had also applied for a job as Resident Assistant with the university. Ironically, her application was successful, but Pitts was not offered the job because she had an outstanding balance with the University. Pitts found herself in a precarious position, calling her immediate family for financial assistance. She couldn’t even get a loan, as she told us she was informed that loans are not available for the study of law.

At the end of her second year, after scraping by and being under the radar, she prepared for her 3rd and final year. Pitts said, she did not have the funds to come home and luckily, she was taken in by a church sister.

For the 1st semester of her 3rd year, as if things could not get any worse, she was locked out of services offered by the school because she still owed the school for the entire 2nd year. That meant not having access to essentials such as library and internet.

On top of that, she was in her third year and did not have the funds for that either. After the 1st semester of her third year at UWI Cave Hill, Pitts was able to catch up on outstanding tuition through the assistance of her brothers and sisters and other family members. She was lucky enough to have the funds applied retroactively – had that not been done, she would have had to do over her 2nd and 3rd years.

We did say the road was bumpy – another problem was that she had also missed 2 of 5 mandatory exams and was now in danger of losing all the credits she had racked up over her first and 2nd years. As a result of the petitioning by some instructors and staff, Pitts was eventually allowed to take the exams.

She had to re-take one of those exams a year later, so while she had completed 3 years at UWI Cave Hill, she would have to wait another year to receive her degree.

During her last year at the Cave Hill campus, Pitts says she realized how blessed she had been to be allowed to remain in school when she worked as marketing assistant for UWI. She told us that upon examining their policy, it was clear that her accessibility should have been cut off from the time she embarked on her second year as a penniless student.

After completing her 3rd and final year at Cave Hill, Pitts stayed at the University for the summer working with an attorney doing research and transcriptions, then travelled to the States, where she worked full time for a year.

But with the goal still in mind, Pitts braced herself for the final leg of her journey to becoming an attorney. Her years at UWI had exhausted her and depleted her of any strength to continue, but with the encouragement of a friend, she applied and was accepted to Norman Manley School of Law – and again, she had no money for school.

According to Pitts, she landed in Jamaica with $120 US in her pocket and not much else. She was again, stepping out on faith. After scraping by financially and without paying any tuition for her first year, Pitts came upon another hurdle – she could not take the end of year exam because she owed the school.

She did the only thing she could afford to do, and that was to beg the principal to allow her to take the exams. The situation was especially delicate, as the principal to the school at the time is the first FEMALE principal – and no doubt her performance would be scrutinized.

Furthermore, it was not a policy to allow a student to sit exams while having payments due to the school still outstanding.

Again, she was saved, as the principal, despite all odds, allowed Pitts to take the exam. She had to first sign paperwork regarding tuition payment. She was informed, as is in line with the school’s policy, that her continuation at Norman Manley Law School was directly dependent on her ability to pay.

Through the assistance of her family, Pitts was able to come up with the funds to pay for tuition and received her Legal Education Certificate in May of this year with graduations being held in September.

By that time she was back in Belize, and remained here to be close to her mother, who has been ailing for some years.

After successfully completing her studies at Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica, Pitts filed her application to practice law in Belize, and the rest, as we say, is history.

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin in officially welcoming Pitts to the Bar encouraged her to be diligent in her service and to not be ashamed of making money, as she and her family had sacrificed quite a lot for her to reach this milestone.

He advised her too, not to forget the plight of those who cannot afford representation and to be ready to offer assistance, as it is a part of her mandate.

Pitts, on her admittance to the Bar, read from a prepared statement. She acknowledged her teachers, who back in L.A. had told her she could be anything – she credits their encouragement with helping her to keep that mindset, even after realizing where she lived and what experts thought the odds for success were for people like her.

She also spoke about her experience job hunting when she had first come back to Belize to live, and her frustration at not finding one until writing a letter to Kremandala, landing an interview and being hired to do what she calls the “job of a lifetime” – editor at KREM Radio.

There, says Pitts, the spark to become an attorney, a social engineer, and an advocate, was rekindled. She is now interning under the tutelage of former Ombudsman Cynthia Pitts, in Belize City.

There are reportedly over 170 attorneys who are members of the Bar of Belize.

Pitts says that the experience of having so many people support and advocate for her has given her an appreciation of what it takes to advocate on behalf of someone else. And that, she says, that drive, that passion, that advocacy, is what she intends to bring to the profession.

Kremandala congratulates Ivy, a modern-day example of what intelligence, dedication, and perseverance can achieve in achieving your life’s dream.

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