HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Houston woman is getting a Foti High Five after overcoming obstacles and earning a law degree in front of her three children.
Shartory Brown will graduate from South Texas College of Law on Saturday, after overcoming homelessness, physical abuse, teenage pregnancy and single motherhood.
Brown lost her mother to suicide at six months old, and can count the number of times she has seen her father on one hand.
She was raised by her grandmother until she was 13 years old, and ran away from home due to assault. Brown became homeless before the age of 14.
"I stayed with friends. Often I slept on porches," said Brown. "At that young age, I knew that education was my only ticket out of that environment. Even my living arrangement wasn't as important to me as school was."
Brown became pregnant at the age of 17, and was forced to drop out of school. Fortunately, she entered the home of a caring foster mother, Patrice Tiggs, who managed a house for teenage mothers.
"I was in foster care while pregnant, but God was with me," Brown said.
To this day, Brown refers to Patrice as "Momma," and views her as her actual mother.
Brown eventually transitioned to an independent living program designed to prepare teenagers for adulthood, but was kicked out after becoming pregnant with her second child at the age of 19.
She found herself homeless again, but this time with a 2-year-old and an infant.
Despite her setbacks, Brown said her sons served as her motivation to enter a local women's shelter, return to school and secure her own home.
Shortly after getting her life on track, Brown married a man who physically abused her, forcing her to flee from the situation.
"I didn't want to be a victim again," Brown said. "I was fighting not only for myself, but for my young children, and decided to take control."
Brown eventually graduated with an associate's degree in paralegal studies, and went off to Kaplan University to pursue a bachelor's degree in legal studies. She also met and married her husband, Quinnan, a recruiter with the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Law school was very challenging with three sons at home and a husband stationed in Galveston," Brown said. "My oldest son helped a lot with my youngest son while I was in class and studying for exams."
As a law student, Brown interned at the Harris County Attorney's Office in the Child Protective Services department.
"I remember coming home from work and telling my husband, 'I've found my life's work. I want to devote my career to working with abused children and protecting them from so many things I had to endure,'" Brown said.
Her goal following graduation is to become a Harris County attorney, facilitating the transfer of children from abusive homes to caring foster homes.
Brown and her husband also plan on expanding the nonprofit she started in college, which aims to provide supportive living arrangements for teenage mothers.
"I just want to be able to give back," Brown said. "I'd be happy if I could help even one child and watch him or her blossom. That is success."