Ray Curtis Petty Jr. was told by teachers that he should be in special education classes. He was told by coaches that he wasn’t smart enough to remember a playbook. He was denied every law school that he applied but one. Today, he has succeeded against all odds as he has obtained a degree and become the first lawyer in his family.
Recently, a YouTube video of his mom’s reaction to him passing the bar exam went viral. Indeed, it has not been an easy journey for Petty. With many not believing in him, the young man born and raised in Albany nevertheless worked hard to earn his first degree at Albany State University, making his family proud.
He then decided to pursue a law degree, but he was discriminated against for the umpteenth time as he was denied by every law school that he applied to except one — Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He attended that law school and even went on to be elected as President of the Student Bar Association.
And while he was studying at the law school, he also worked as a paralegal in the United States Air Force Reserve. “I’ve been a paralegal in the Air Force for six years at the McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida,” Petty told WALB. “After those orders, I had to start studying for the bar exam and that took me into 2021.”
But he recounted that in 2020, he was just about to complete his law studies when he and his family lost his sister, Shakodi Sapp, to sickle cell anemia. And right after her death, he had to return to his law school class — taking five classes in his last semester. He also had to go back to his military duties.
In spite of the challenges he went through including being depressed, Petty graduated as the valedictory speaker of his law class. He was also a recipient of the Thomas E. Brennan Scholarship, an award given to those who have demonstrated strong leadership skills.
He subsequently took the bar exam but failed it the first time. He did not let that deter him but studied to take the exam for the second time. And he passed.
“He passed! He passed! My baby passed!” Petty’s mother Meta Petty exclaimed after seeing her son’s bar exam results last month. Petty has thanked his family, particularly his mom, for their support. His aim now is to fight for justice where there is none.
“As a black male attorney, my duty is to bring justice to the areas of injustice,” he said last year, according to a blog post by Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
“Me graduating and getting into the legal field is a protest. We have seen people protest with their feet and their mouths, but what you see is me protesting with my career. I devote my life to a cause,” he added.
Petty, who is so elated to become the first lawyer in his family, hopes his story inspires others to go for gold. One of his goals is to bring a law school to Albany State University’s campus.
“I want to be a, just a pillar in my community, no matter where God may lead me, and I want to be able to do the will of God and I want to be able to serve his people. It’s not about me at all, just being in this profession this is a profession of servitude,” Petty said.