From time to time, we feature a JRF Scholar or alumnus who we think you should know. Today, we point our spotlight towards Mercedes Hobson. Mercedes is from Banning, California and is a 2013 graduate of New York Law School. She received her undergraduate degree from UCLA in 2008. Mercedes is now a patent prosecution contractor for IBM.
Q: You’ve faced quite a few challenges in your life. Can you share a bit of your personal story?
A: In my family, I am the first to attend college. My mom was 13 years old when she had her first child and I ended up in the foster care system when I was 8 years old. While I spent some time with my grandmother and different family members, I stayed in the system until I was 16 and was pretty much on my own after that. I experienced various forms of abuse and often lacked basic resources I needed.
Q: Given what you faced in your life, how did you stay focused?
A: I would say that one major thing that separated me from others who surrounded me was my ability to listen and learn from their mistakes. When I saw others having children too young or doing drugs, I knew not to take that path. I tried to emulate successful people. Although I may not have had one consistent role model, at each stage of my life I always had someone to guide me when I most needed it and to help me get to the next step.
Q: How did you learn about the Jackie Robinson Foundation?
A: I worked hard in high school and was admitted to UCLA. I had gone to a youth scholars’ event and learned about the Jackie Robinson Foundation, so I applied.
Q: What do you remember about the process, particularly the interview?
A: When I sat before the Scholar Advisory Committee and I shared my story, they were able to help me articulate what I had been feeling all these years. They knew that there had been a weight on my shoulders and they seemed to see something in me that I had not been able to see. I wasn’t confident that I would be selected by JRF, but I was confident that the course of my life was going to change just by that short encounter and the Foundation people I met that day.
Q: How has the Foundation impacted your life?
A: It’s hard to put into words the different ways the Foundation has impacted my life. During my years as a JRF Scholar, I was able to let go of much of the anger I had. Through the Foundation and the stories of Jackie Robinson and Rachel Robinson, I understood more of the complexities surrounding my personal family history. I was able to cope better and see that I am part of something bigger and of a larger legacy of challenges. I also knew that I wanted to be successful but I didn’t know what that meant and how you got there. JRF encouraged me. JRF connected me to mentors. The annual conferences and the mentoring program helped me to take something abstract and formulate a firm plan for my life. One thing I’m particularly proud of is through the experiences I gained as an intern and from my other personal experiences, I co-founded a non-profit organization at UCLA called the Bruin Guardian Scholars Program. This program identifies former foster kids at UCLA and addresses their unique needs so that they can graduate and succeed. I feel I have left my own special legacy at UCLA and I look forward to contributing more to society at-large.
Q: How has your success affected your family?
A: My family is extremely proud of me. I have seen that my achievements have influenced them in great ways. My younger sister, who I cared for while I was at UCLA, is now attending college herself. My brother is gainfully employed, and my mom went back to school --overcoming many of her challenges. I can honestly say that my success really has changed the dynamics of my whole family.
Q: What is your life like these days?
A: I took the New York Bar exam after graduation and just learned that I passed. I am currently working on the Patent Bar and I hope to have that completed this month. I guess I am transitioning into the next phase of my life, having just finished my legal studies. Though my immediate goal is to get hired full time with a law firm or corporation, I will always use my experiences and any other resources I gain to help others achieve their goals just as many others have helped me.