Jamaican shakes things up in the US
On her 18th birthday, Georgette Miller said that while attending Holy Childhood High School her father told her he was no longer legally responsible for her and that she had to leave.
“I was in my first year of my A levels,” Miller told the Jamaica Observer in a telephone interview on Friday. “So I lived with some friends until I did my A levels, and got my A levels result.”
Now 42 years old, she lives in the United States and operates law offices in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland and is looking to open two more offices next year, one in Detroit and the other in Virginia, under the banner of Georgette Miller and Associates PC. She can also be heard on weekly radio stations across the USA and is the author of the book Living Debt Free: What Credit Score, Fear Mongers and Debt Peddlers Don’t Want You to Know.
Miller is originally from Queen Hill in St Andrew. She attended Pembroke Hall Primary and as soon as she finished Holy Childhood High, she moved to the USA to complete her undergraduate studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
“I went with US$200 and a blue suitcase that I lived out of for four years,” Miller recalled. “I was almost homeless and someone took me in.”
The real estate attorney told the Sunday Observer that for eight months after moving to the USA, she lived with a relative but issues developed and she was asked to leave.
“I was basically on the streets until someone who was a stranger to me, another Jamaican, said ‘I just can’t let you live on the street’,” she recounted. “She took me into her one-bedroom apartment and I slept on her sofa for those three years until I got myself together to the point where I had a decent job, and rented a two-bedroom.”
At the time she was attending school full-time and working full-time to put herself through school. Miller said that when she left Jamaica she did not have the support of her father.
“He was a very successful businessman, he was a wonderful friend, (but a) father to grown kids – not the best,” Miller said. “But I think we were able to somewhat mend our ways before he passed away. We had a respectful relationship — I respected him and he had to respect me because I achieved what I achieved without him.”
Miller believes that being Jamaican in the United States has helped her to get to where she is today.
“I am now a naturalised citizen and I call America a very great stepmother, but she can’t replace mama, which is home,” she stated. “As successful as I have been, and there is some who would say that I am relatively successful, I still miss home dearly. I am not sure if I could go back to my 19-year-old self and do it over again, if I would’ve come to the USA, and that’s being completely honest.
“My mentor, who is an attorney, always says to me, ‘you’re Jamaican, how many jobs do you have?’ That’s the running joke,” Miller said with a chuckle.
“I believe I developed my work ethic just growing up in Jamaica, I believe, thankfully, when I came to the USA I was 19 so I had a strong sense of who I was. So when I came here, I was fully formed. I had a true sense of self. I knew exactly what I wanted and I knew I had everything in me to achieve whatever it is that I needed,” Miller insisted. “So all the struggles that I had, achieving what I had, were just that — struggles. They weren’t barriers; they weren’t something that would stop me, because I didn’t allow myself to be defined by anybody in this country, because I knew who I was.
“I knew who I was and that was absolutely, positively because I was Jamaican. I am absolutely, positively working for myself, because I am Jamaican and like most Jamaicans, you can’t tell me what to do… and you can’t talk to me any way,” declared Miller.
After attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Miller attended Rutgers School of Law.
“Now when I got my law degree I did well so I started out working at one of the largest law firms in Philadelphia and it was all from there,” Miller stated. “Then I went back to law school where I worked and got an advanced law degree, I got an LLM specialising in taxation because I was doing a lot of really creative tax financing transactions and I thought getting my LLM in tax would be an asset.”
Miller said that by 2008 she was earning six figures as a senior associate practising law at a top law firm, but decided to leave that to start her own practice, helping those negatively affected by the economic downturn.
“I knew a lot of people were going to get hurt and I knew a lot of regular people were going to find themselves in a really hard place,” Miller said. “So I started my own practice doing what we call here consumer bankruptcy, where under the bankruptcy code, there is a lot of help, there is a lot of relief for individuals.”
She has four attorneys and about seven support staff members currently working with her. Miller admitted to the Sunday Observer that she has made several sacrifices to get to where she is.
“There is no balance. I like to tell the young lawyers who work for me or when am asked, that you can have it all, just not all at the same time,” Miller explained. “Like right now, I have no kids, but I couldn’t do what I do if I had children.
“I am always going and right now, there really isn’t a balance,” she continued. “The only balance I have is when I go to Bible study on Wednesday. I can’t even go to Sunday service because I am on the radio Sunday mornings.”
The attorney, who also travels around the USA speaking on financial planning or getting out of debt at seminars, insisted that she made her choice.
“Yes I sacrificed quite a bit but it was a sacrifice that I know and really took on,” Miller said. “You know, if I had stayed in my law firm practice they would’ve probably made me a partner. The partnership pay-out back then was US$1.3 million per partner, and I would’ve had a really good life. But I would be working for someone… So the thought of me working for someone for the rest of my life was just something I couldn’t process and I knew I had to sacrifice to create my own practice, so it was something I was willing to do.”
Miller is also looking to put a show together that will be syndicated on 31 stations across the southern states in the USA, which would add to her existing radio shows that are aired in New York, Philadelphia and Atlantic City.
Miller said that having watched her father build a successful business so that he was able to retire at age 40, and her mother also having her own business, she knew she would also be an entrepreneur, but believes that despite all she has achieved to date, she is not yet where she wants to be.
“I feel like there is so much left to be done. Look, there are not many people in the US, particularly not many black lawyers and definitely not many black, maybe no female lawyer, who has five offices and looking to open two more,” Miller maintained. “I don’t feel like I have really achieved my purpose and I am really hungry to really fulfil everything that I think God has put me here to do. So at this point, I feel that where I am in my journey there is much left to be done.”
What keeps her motivated?
“The fact that my offices help maybe about 100 families a month get themselves out of debt, get their finances structured,” Miller responded. “They believe that they are on the precipice of what they consider to be a financial Armageddon and they come into our offices and we show them a path and show them that it’s not that bad.
“So what keeps me motivated is my practice or what I am or what I am doing, whether it’s if they read my book or come to one of my seminars or we help them in the office — I am helping actual people,” Miller went on.
She told the Sunday Observer that growing up in Jamaica it was either you would become a lawyer or a doctor, and since she didn’t like the sight of blood, she became a lawyer. To youngsters trying to achieve their goals, Miller had this to say: “The good Lord never puts a desire in your heart unless he has equipped you with everything you need to succeed. So just go out and live your dream. Don’t have anybody tell you what your dream should be, don’t have anybody tell you who you are or what you can achieve, just go out and live your dreams.”
Does she plan on returning to the land of her birth? Yes.
Miller said she visits at least once per year and that in the near future, she is looking to build a permanent home on the island.
Richards Anika (2014 October 28) Jamaican shakes things up in the US. Retrieved on October 28, 2014 from Jamaican Observer