Published on May 6, 2021 by Morgan Black
Courtney Howard, a member of Samford University Cumberland School of Law’s class of 2021, did not always have a dream of going to law school. Throughout her life and path to law school, tough times seemed to follow her, but she has proven only to let those experiences make her tougher.
Her journey began at just 6 years old when she lost her mother. “I honestly think this was the start to me knowing I would face and overcome adversity,” she said as she shared a vivid account of the day she learned her mother had passed away. “As a 6-year-old, I was upset with the world and I felt like I had to carry myself through life in anger.”
Howard’s grandparents placed her in therapy where she learned to properly grieve and develop coping mechanisms. She was also transferred to a private Christian school, Cornerstone Schools of Alabama, that she claims played a huge role in shaping who she is today.
“Over time, I developed the ability to find and appreciate the joy in what people will view as moments of tragedy. All times may not be the best times, but we cannot appreciate the sweet if we don't get a taste of the bitter.”
She said that by developing this life perspective, she has learned to meet people where they are and not judge them because of their decisions or circumstances.
“While I may not agree with them, I find ways to connect, communicate and understand. I would not have been able to take this approach to life without losing my mom at a very young age and being angry at the world. It happened so early, but it made me different in the way I experience and digest tough times.”
After graduating from Ramsay High School, she received a scholarship to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in communications and economics. She excelled in her undergraduate studies and received the opportunity of a lifetime to study abroad as a Ralph Bunche International Scholar at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. It was there that she overcame another tough experience: failing her first class of the program.
At Murdoch, she primarily studied business statistics, but also took extra courses in theatre and film production.
“While I excelled in theatre and film production, I struggled in business statistics. I went to all the lectures and tutoring classes that were offered and just couldn't grasp the concepts as well as I had while I was studying statistics and economics in America.”
Howard’s stress grew so much that her tutor began ending their sessions early to allow her time to meditate and practice mindfulness on the beach.
“This experience taught me so much about myself,” she said. “I'm not sure why, but it took me going to another country to realize I will not be perfect at everything and that my grades do not determine how great I will or will not be at something. If I allowed this moment to weaken my confidence, I would not have had the courage to even apply to law school. I know I won't always be perfect at everything and I am always courageous enough to try new things with the perspective of, ‘I can do this and excel, or I can do this, fail, and try it again.’ Fast forwarding to the happy ending, I came back to America, took the same class, and passed it with an A!”
Following her graduation from Howard University, she worked as a touring manager for Grammy®-nominated artist Tamar Braxton, sister of Grammy®-winning artist Toni Braxton. It was during this time that Howard learned of a new life tragedy: someone she worked closely with had been murdered.
“This situation shook me up, but made me super tough,” she said. “It actually led me on my journey to law school.”
Not long after the incident, Howard moved back to Birmingham to be near her family and began working for Growing Kings Inc., a local nonprofit organization that mentors male youth who have been identified as "at-risk" in the Birmingham City Schools. While working with Growing Kings, she was involved in a project which exposed her to research and policy work.
“After reviewing the socioeconomic backgrounds of the citizens and neighborhoods within the city of Birmingham, my interest in higher education was sparked! I needed help deciding between attending law school or enrolling in a local doctoral program. With the help of my mentors, I chose law school.”
During law school, she encountered yet another hurdle that has made her even stronger. After being prescribed two different dermatological medications to clear her seborrheic dermatitis, she experienced a devastating hair experience which made her hair dry and brittle. Instead of responding in anger, Howard rose above. She tapped into her early love of science and created her own formula using 100% natural ingredients to help people seeking to nourish dry and flaky scalps. Thus, her business, Love Your Scalp, was born in September 2020 and her product has sold out every month since.
“I've noticed personal and professional growth from both this business and law school, and I’ve become very intentional about giving people grace,” she said.
Throughout law school, she has been involved in numerous student organizations such as the Career Development Advisory Board (CDAB) and the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). She has interned several summers at Protective Life Corporation and has even led the class of 2021 as its president. Howard has been the recipient of numerous scholarships and honors that have aided her in her journey. In addition to the financial support she’s received, Howard credits a circle of friends, family and coworkers for carrying her through to the finish line.
“I honestly couldn't have made it through this without my support system! Outside of law school, my family, friends, mentors, and Protective Life family are the real MVPs! They've prayed with me, encouraged me and supported me in so many ways. At Cumberland, BLSA has also been a huge support system! I've also found great support in many of my classmates and professors—I would name them, but the list will go on and on! Even if these people only helped me one time, that one time got me to the next step of something I needed to get done—and I appreciate everyone for everything they've done!”
Following her graduation from Cumberland School of Law on Friday, May 7, Howard will study for Alabama’s July bar exam and will begin working as a staff attorney for Protective Life Corporation in September. In addition, she will continue running her business which has gained international customers.
“Despite the hurdles she’s faced in life, Ms. Howard has risen above and excelled,” said Tona Hitson, Cumberland School of Law’s director of student services. “She is supportive of her classmates as a leader, a friend and a role model, and she does it all with humility. She is a true professional and will be an asset to the legal community.”
As she reflected on her life and her journey to and through law school, Howard stated, “Times get tough, I get tougher!” For Howard, and all who have witnessed her journey, no words could be truer.
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 37th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 97th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,758 students from 48 states and 22 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.