Today’s highlight concludes our client and staff spotlight series for Black History Month. The series creator and author, Nadia Deans Kalata, enjoyed sharing the journeys of our clients and staff. She plans to continue sharing these journeys throughout the year. She now shares her own immigration journey…
I am Nadia Deans Kalata, a Senior Associate at Garvish Immigration Law Group, in Atlanta, Georgia. I am from Jamaica and also a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. I was born and raised in the capital city of Kingston, where I had an amazing childhood. My entire life in Jamaica is rooted with my family (mom, dad, and brother) and friends. Despite all this, I knew I was meant to venture out into the world. I wanted the experience of living abroad and decided to study in the U.S. It was a hard decision to leave my life in Jamaica, but I knew this was the right path. My parents supported this decision even though it was hard for them. As my mom always said, “we give our children roots and wings.”
I attended Ohio Wesleyan University as an international student on an F-1 (student) visa. Living in Delaware, Ohio was indeed a culture shock. However, the school had a large international student population, many of whom became close friends. This was a huge part of my undergraduate experience, being exposed to various cultures and being able to share mine. I have friends from many different countries as a result, including Egypt, Ghana, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and various States throughout the U.S. Not to mention my fellow Jamaicans on campus (yes, we are everywhere).
I was a science major with a focus on Genetics and Microbiology. I also majored in Psychology. However, although I enjoyed these subject areas, I had no desire to go to medical school. I was pursuing a path of laboratory research and soon realized that was not for me. I needed a career where I could work directly with people. Many events led me to develop an interest in law and after working with my dad in his firm back home in Jamaica, I knew that was the right path. After graduating with a double major in Genetics and Psychology, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to attend law school.
I attended Emory University School of Law on another student visa. My plan was to practice patent law because of my science background, but I also made sure I took courses in other areas. I was accepted to the Emory International Law Review, where my student comment was selected for publication. I was also selected as a Managing Editor during my final year. I participated in Emory’s field placement program, which allowed me to gain invaluable experience at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The Coca Cola Company. Work authorization is restricted on a student visa so I was grateful for this experience. During my second summer, I interned at The Weather Channel (legal department), under curricular practical training on my student visa (F-1 CPT).
After graduating from law school, I worked with a general practice law firm in Atlanta, initially through Optional Practical Training (F-1 OPT), then eventually under H-1B status. I practiced civil litigation, corporate law and immigration during this time. It was here that the real learning began. I always tell others that while law school is of course necessary, you don’t really learn to practice law until you start practicing. I learned so much in these areas and I am grateful that I didn’t restrict myself to a specialized practice right away. I would advise any law student or entry level attorney to do the same; never limit yourself and don’t be too quick to choose your niche. Try everything if the opportunity presents itself, so you can expand your knowledge and experience. Soon enough your niche will find you.
Sure enough, my niche found me. I can honestly say I fell into immigration law and ended up loving it. Maybe because I felt that I was truly helping people and seeing the results – I help foreign professionals obtain the necessary authorization to work at their dream jobs in the U.S.; I help foreign medical graduates obtain waivers to provide services in medically underserved areas; I help bring families together … the list goes on. Maybe it’s because I have a unique outlook as a result of my own immigration experience. I had never taken an immigration course or done a single internship in immigration during law school. Yet here I am 16 years later.
Garvish Immigration Law Group was established in 2010. I was offered an Associate position, which I accepted. I eventually obtained my legal permanent residence through Garvish Immigration. I am now a Senior Associate and Lead Attorney representing people across the globe.
Over the years, I’ve grown and evolved as an attorney and I’ve witnessed our law firm do the same. We have come a long way and I like the direction we’ve taken. We started out as a boutique immigration law firm with two to three attorneys. Today we have five attorneys and six support staff members. We are majority women (we do have one male employee). Our firm is quite diverse, with representation from Colombia, Nigeria, India, China, Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, and of course, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. All of our attorneys are mothers balancing a career and family without having to choose one over the other. We have come such a long way, and I am proud to be a part of this growth and change.
My advice to others is to embrace change. Change is necessary for growth. Change brings hope. Change happens in all forms, whether it’s by moving to a different country with a completely different culture, or changing your career path, or practice area. It could be by accepting a new job … or being a part of the changes within your current one … or branching off completely to do your own thing. The goal is to keep growing because only you know what’s right for you. You set your own path.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
I have been living in Atlanta, Georgia for almost 20 years, now with my own family. We have an amazing group of friends here who have been very supportive. My husband, who is Eritrean, born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had his own immigration journey and path to citizenship. We are raising two African American sons who are our heartbeats. They are our motivation and inspiration and everything we do, we do for them. We will teach them by example, to never limit themselves and to be open to change. We will teach them to always remember where they come from, and never forget who they are. They will know every aspect of their culture and history – Jamaican, Trinidadian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and American. We will give them roots and wings. I think about my mom and dad while writing this since I am the woman I am today because of them – their love, their sacrifices, and their support. They gave me roots and wings.
We celebrate great leaders in black history who paved the way for future generations. For all those who came before us, all those who fought for our rights, all those who broke barriers to pave the way for the rest of us – they gave us roots, so we could have our wings. We would not be where we are today without these leaders. Because of them, my sons have a future in this country. We have come a long way, yet there is still a lot of work to do. We can make a difference in our own community, in our own work environment, in our own country. The change starts with us.
“Your Trusted Guide to the American Dream”
This monthly blog series on Black History Month is produced by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee led by our Senior Attorney, Nadia Deans Kalata.