When Alexis Hawkins was 15-years-old, she was expelled from high school. The teenager who had spent the first formative years of her life in foster care due to an unstable home life saw her entire world come crashing down in 2008.

At that time, Hawkins was a student at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington, D.C. when she got involved in a 20-person brawl between people from warring neighborhoods, according to Because of Them We Can.

And that, she said, was the ultimate low for her. 

“I love this community, but a lot of my friends’ blood is still on this concrete, so, like bittersweet,” Hawkins said to WUSA-TV. “I was labeled many things: the aggressor, the instigator, the fighter, and that was because I would often get into physical altercations. And these altercations weren’t just like myself and another party; they often consisted of 10, 15 children versus 10 or 15 other children from different neighborhoods.”

Hawkins said that she grew up on survival, and not love, thanks to her rough family upbringing. But after she was expelled from school, she joined a group called the Peaceaholics in the hopes of finding some semblance of sanity in the world that was, if nothing else, a disappointment to her.

“Looking back now, I found that the more that I expanded my horizons and got out of my environment, the more that I began to learn, the more that I was able to hear and see different perspectives,” she said. “And that really, in a sense, helped my development because I was then out of a space where people all thought alike. I was challenged to think differently or to act differently. So, looking back, it definitely impacted, my childhood.”

After she got her GED, she enrolled in Benedict College in South Carolina. There, she was on the dean’s list and got involved in several on-campus organizations. She also joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

From there, Hawkins returned to D.C., where she enrolled in Howard Law School, and is now studying for the bar exam.

“Although my accomplishments are rare for where I came from, I will work to make sure that is not the case for long. I want girls like me to have even more opportunities than I had, even more support, and I will always be reaching back, giving back, and pulling them forward,” Hawkins said.