Once homeless, Miami man earns FIU law degree

Erick Johnson | 5/29/2014, 9 a.m.
Desmond Meade remembers standing on railroad tracks in Miami waiting for a train to come. Homeless, hungry and broke, Meade ...
Desmonde Meade, a former homeless man who once tried to commit suicide, graduated with a law degree from FIU last Friday.

“It was like an oasis,” he remembers. “There were trees and grass, clean running water. And I was in heaven. They treat people with respect. And they loved me until I learned how to love myself.”

“When you’re homeless, there’s a harsh emotional aspect,” he said. “No one really cared one way or another if you lived or if you died.”


After completing the drug treatment program from Chapman, Meade entered Miami-Dade Community College’s North Campus where he graduated summa cum laude in paralegal studies from the college’s special bachelor program in 2010. Four months later, Meade enrolled in FIU’s law school.

“I realized all the pain and suffering I went through all my life became worthwhile when I used it to help someone else,” Meade said. “I realized that was my purpose — to help those less fortunate.”

But despite his achievements, Meade’s troubles are not over. A convicted felon, he is unable to practice law in Florida, because of the state’s disenfranchisement law that revokes civil rights of convicted felons. Additionally, Florida citizens with criminal records cannot vote, run for political office, serve as a juror or possess firearms. Florida is only one of three states with such laws, thanks to Gov. Rick Scott who reversed a decision by Charlie Crist who restored these rights during his term in office.

But with his confidence high from his latest academic achievement, Meade is leading a campaign to restore the rights of convicted felons. As director of Lifelines to Healing Campaign, he is also engaged in a national campaign to reduce mass incarceration and gun violence in urban communities, in addition to helping to restore the voting rights of some 5 million former criminals in the U.S.

Although he can practice law with his degree in other states — granted with passing scores on the bar exam — Meade is determined to be an attorney in his home state.

“I’m going to stay here,” he said. “I’m going to fight. What I went through to get where I am today, I have no choice but to have faith.”