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RB Alverna
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Degree: Doctor of Education, Educational Leadership–Ed.D.

 Residence:  East Orange, NJ

What is your professional work? – I am the founder of  theAcademy365, Inc. in Orange, New Jersey which serves African American young men ages 12 to 18 throughout Essex County with the focus of making sure there is a level playing field for them to attain every opportunity and or experience they deserve. It is a nonprofit focused on creating a safe space and programming that aims to fight the dominant narrative of Black men in America. We cover everything from mental health to the legal system and how those issues directly affect African American males.

What was the best part of your experience as a graduate student at Caldwell University?

My dissertation committee. They’ve become part of my life. I lost my youngest brother to gun violence in the first semester of writing my dissertation.  Dr. Sara Tedrick Parikh (associate professor in the School of Psychology and Counseling)  taught me to put what was important first. Yes, it is great to get a doctorate but it is [also] important to understand the balance.  She taught me about being able to put my family and myself first. She taught me that it was o.k. to grieve. She’s family now. I also got an opportunity to work with Dr. Susan Hayes and Dr. Lavon Williams, two sharp-minded researchers. 

How is your doctoral education serving you professionally? It allowed me to see my professional work through the lens of research. I have a better understanding of what the numbers really mean. I see the importance of statistics and how they help you tell the story, and for me that was being able to tell the story of many Black males as they navigate the educational system. My doctoral research will push a much needed conversation and ignite the fight in other like minded scholars  who want to see change 

Who helped you get here that you want to thank? My family;  they have loved me from a place of grace and heart and for that I’m forever grateful.  The young men of theAcademy365 for giving me a purposeful mission on this earth. My sixth-grade social studies teacher, Mrs.Sharp, who became my mentor in sixth grade and has remained in my life since. She saw something beyond the surface. She showed me exactly what it means to be a mentor but most importantly what a real model for Black boys looks like. I owe a tremendous amount to her love and guidance. 

Other highlights of your time at Caldwell? The classroom experience with certain professors helped tremendously.  The  best advice I got was from Dr. Keen–that this process had to become my own process. I had to take control of how I wanted it  to go. I had to have agency over how I was going to obtain my doctorate, from day one.  Realizing that if I was going to do this, it had to be for a meaningful purpose. Most importantly, I had to focus on who I wanted to impact.  My research focused on African American males’  persistence through education, specifically higher education and the influence of social and academic integration, childhood trauma, and discrimination on the institutional and goal commitments of African American males.

Next goals? To turn my nonprofit into a research based organization, I owe it to every Black boy who may need theAcademy365 one day for a chance at greatness and that starts with me. I will publish my dissertation. I plan to  write a book that, hopefully, will become a guide for other Black boys and men to help them navigate childhood trauma and the heightened vigilance one may face on a daily basis, and how mistakes shouldn’t define who we are. We can either prove them wrong or prove them right. . 

Being  the first African American male to obtain a doctoral degree at Caldwell was never a thought but when I learned I could be part of history, I decided  to embrace it. I hope it helps another Black male who is navigating higher education in predominantly white institutions.  The fact that I am the first  is special for me and my family and I hold that in high regard.