"You have to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves"

Watch a video about Jamal's story.

Jamal Sowell, '17, was born in Orlando, Florida, but with a dad in the Army, you could say he's from everywhere.

After his father's retirement, Jamal's family returned to Orlando, where he attended high school. In 2000, he enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville and became involved in several campus and community organizations. These activities laid the groundwork for his election as student body president from 2004–2005 — an achievement notable for two reasons. It was the last time a candidate from outside the university's Greek system "beat the establishment." 

Jamal's evolution from shy kid to confident, self-assured man was helped along by a mentor who once told him, "I see greatness in you."

Jamal graduated from University of Florida with a degree in religion and headed to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for graduate school. Not only did he earn a master's degree in education while acting as a student adviser and career counselor, he also enlisted in the Marines. It wasn't long before he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he saw combat duty and rose to the rank of captain.

In 2011 Jamal — by then a decorated officer — left the U.S. Marine Corps and returned to Gainesville, taking on a number of roles for the University of Florida, including adviser to the president, liaison to government officials and the university's board of trustees, director of special projects and outreach officer to the African-American community.

He also served as a mentor who stressed inclusivity to students and worked to give a voice to those who couldn't speak for themselves. Three years later, this passion led him to the Maurer School of Law, where he's currently pursuing his law degree on a Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarship.

"There's a woman in my life named Wendy Grant who was like a mother to me," Jamal said. "She always had the mindset of 'you never know someone's path in life, you never know what they went through, so treat them like they're the most important person in the room.' You have to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves and make sure everyone is included."

Sowell has put his legal training to good use back in Florida. In 2019 he was named president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, Inc., the state's principal economic development organization. In that capacity, he also serves as Florida's secretary of commerce.