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060214 Rachel Jeantel

Most of us remember Rachel Jeantel as the key prosecution witness who was ridiculed for her demeanor and speech during the Trayvon Martin case. At that time, the 19-year-old eventually admitted she couldn’t read a letter written in cursive, but she spoke Haitian Creole, Spanish, and then English. On Friday, the 19-year-old-clapped back to all the haters by receiving her high school diploma while Martin’s mom, Sybrina Fulton looked on.

“I did it,” Jeantel says. “The witness who didn’t know how to speak English knows how to speak English through the 12th grade now. I never quit.”

And she did it with the help of Miami defense and civil rights attorney Rod Vereen, who used funds from the Tom Joyner Foundation to hire a team of three tutors, a psychologist, and other mentors. Within nine months she advanced from reading and doing math at an elementary school level.

“When they say it takes a village to raise a child, this is what has happened here,” says Vereen. “Getting her down that aisle has not been an easy task. Rachel is just like any other teenager. They want to buck the system sometimes, and you just can’t let them buck the system.”

Jeantel has also earned her driver’s license and is currently searching for a job. She plans to continue working with tutors on a pre-college curriculum before enrolling at a university.

Crossing the stage on Friday “is just the beginning of my life,” Jeantel says.

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