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Nigerian-born student vows to fight homelessness in the United States

Once Jessica Ofurie decided that she wanted to dedicate herself to homelessness, she volunteered as a team leader at St. Francis House for the homeless in Boston. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

When Jessica Ofurie came to the United States from Nigeria five years ago, she already knew she wanted to be a lawyer and dedicate herself to public service.

She did not yet know that homelessness in America was the issue she would take on, because she had no idea of how widespread the problem is.

“The thing that surprised me most was that there were so many homeless people sleeping on the streets in rags,” Ofurie said, of her initial impressions of life in the United States. “I thought that only happened in African countries.”

Soon after arriving in the United States, Ofurie enrolled at North Shore Community College, which was near her family’s new home in Salem, Massachusetts. In 2015, she earned her associate degree in liberal arts, and her 3.74 GPA helped her win a scholarship to Northeastern.

“When I was in Nigeria growing up, my friends would always say I should be a lawyer because I argued so well and I’m so quick to point out injustice,” said Ofurie, now a senior at Northeastern. “I just knew public service was in my character and decided that law school is the best way to do that effectively.”

Once Ofurie decided that she wanted to dedicate herself to homelessness, she volunteered as a team leader at St. Francis House for the homeless in Boston.

But like many college students, she had to navigate several twists and turns to discover the best way to reach her ultimate goal.

She switched majors from international affairs to economics because she thought it would provide her with better employment opportunities and better training for law school. Her co-op adviser then suggested she take a position in the attorney general’s office.

 “He said that even though the co-op was in accounting and human resources, it was up to me to make it everything that I wanted it to be,” Ofurie recalled. “When I got there, I told my supervisor that I’m interested in the law and want to use the co-op to confirm my interest. I got to help attorneys from many different departments and learn about what they do.”

That summer she continued on as an intern in the attorney general’s healthcare advocacy program, where she helped people who were overcharged for or denied healthcare.  

Ofurie is currently a summer intern at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and plans to graduate in December with a combined major in economics and political science and minors in English and business administration. After taking a year off to earn some money, she plans to apply to law school and finally realize her dream.

“After law school, I want to work with the homeless or use my law degree to help people who have been wrongly convicted of a crime,” she said. “Maybe I’ll start my own NGO to help provide skills to homeless people so they can get better jobs. Whatever I decide to do, I know that public service is what drives me and brings me joy.”

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