Rachel Jeantel was struggling. She was on the witness stand as an unsuspecting key figure thrust into a national case involving her friend's death, race, racism, "Stand your ground" laws and more. She was the last person to talk to Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, before his deadly encounter with George Zimmerman.
Her testimony was key to a case that she wasn't prepared for. Her demeanor and mix of English, slang and Haitian Creole dialect made her hard to decipher. Add to that mix the relentless grilling from a defense attorney who saw fresh meat on the stand and went in for the kill.
The Internet was even worse.
"They called her everything except the child of God," Rod Vereen, a Miami defense and civil rights attorney who tried to prep Jeantel for the witness stand, told Yahoo News. "Of course she was frustrated. It was like stepping into an arena, and you don’t know the rules."
Tom Joyner saw this and had Jeantel on his nationally syndicated radio show. He told her that if she wanted to go to college he would help.
"I will help you get tutors to get out of high school, tutors to pass the SAT. I will give you a full-ride scholarship to any HBCU," Joyner told Jeantel, ABC News reports.
Jeantel accepted, and on Friday graduated from high school while Trayvon's mother looked on.
"Her coming is like having Trayvon there saying, 'You did it. You proved people wrong,'" Jeantel told Yahoo News.
But it wasn't without hard work. According to Yahoo News, Jeantel was in her senior year, yet couldn't read or do math beyond an elementary-school level. Vereen was determined to help Jeantel better herself.
"Rachel was in need, and the whole world was watching," Vereen, 52, told the news site.
According to Yahoo News, thanks to funding from the Tom Joyner Foundation, "for nine months Jeantel received after-school tutoring three hours a day, five to six days a week." She was assigned three tutors, a psychologist and was assisted by several mentors.
"When they say it takes a village to raise a child, this is what has happened here," Vereen told the news site.
Yahoo News notes that Jeantel speaks now with confidence.
"I did it," Jeantel said. "The witness who didn't know how to speak English knows how to speak English through the 12th grade now. I never quit."