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From Ednium: Be a person of value

This year Boardhawk is partnering with Ednium: The Alumni Collective to showcase homegrown Denver talent and the some of the impressive alumni to come out of Denver Public Schools and the impact they are making on the community. Listen to more with Dr. Jamal Bowen on The Ednium Podcast here.

I was awarded the Dream Investor award at the Ednium Homegrown Awards this past December. The winner is someone who “has invested their time, energy and efforts into helping people within the community to dream bigger.”

When I think about community impact, it is about the connections you make, it’s about knowing the community and understanding its problems enough to make real change. When I needed help throughout my life, those true connections were there to help me understand my next steps.

Now, I always vow to take the time to understand community before I teach anything.

I was born in Washington D.C., but I am a product of Denver Public Schools. My entire educational journey started in DPS, at Barney Ford Elementary, Place Middle and ending at East High School. I grew up in Montbello and when I was young, I was manifesting the future I wanted. I have friends who tell me the things I say now are the same things I used to talk about when I was young.

After graduating, I enrolled at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, where I actively participated in track & field. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t the right fit for me. Reflecting on my goals and aspirations, I consistently found myself drawn back to Montbello. I was certain about my desire to contribute to my community and assist local businesses and entrepreneurs in my neighborhood.

I transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, but I faced challenges. I was academically dismissed and had to write an appeal to stay. Simultaneously, I was able to reconnect with my father. I grew up in a single-parent household with the help of my grandparents, as my dad was serving as a diplomat in Liberia.

Being able to connect with him during such a difficult time in my life helped me see the value of my education. I also want to give credit to my mom, who was an educator as well, for inspiring and supporting me. Eventually, I turned my academics around and earned the Pursuit of Excellence Award.

Reconnecting with Montbello

Upon graduation, I encountered a challenge with my credits. However, the unforgettable moment came when Dean Irene Vernon advocated for me, recognizing my previous enrollment in those classes. This experience taught me the importance of connections, emphasizing that I couldn’t achieve success alone. Thanks to this powerful connection, I successfully obtained my bachelor’s degree.

While earning my master’s degree, I kept coming back to this idea of how to support Montbello.

In 2016, I started Empowering Community Entrepreneurs to “create events that encourage, teach and mentor young adults to proactively generate business ideas and construct a plan of action to make them successful.”

I began addressing audiences at community centers and churches, engaging in conversations with diverse communities. Through these interactions, I gained a profound realization of the significance of truly comprehending the communities I served.

It became evident that one cannot effectively provide job skill workshops if the community’s immediate needs revolve around essentials such as food, shelter, or clothing. Understanding these fundamental requirements became a cornerstone of my approach to community outreach.

In 2017, my dad passed away and that same year I traveled back to Monrovia, Liberia where I served as an observer in the presidential election. I worked with the Women’s Situation Room, an all-women coalition to maintain peace during the election of a new president.

While I was there, I connected with my family and supported youth in Liberia and the Ivory Coast with skills around entrepreneurship, leadership and empowerment.

Working in higher education

I have worked at the Community College of Denver as a professor teaching business. I was the chair of First-Year Experience, the Dean of Instruction for the STEM and manufacturing pathways, and I currently am on the leadership team of SparqU.

I was awarded the Post-Secondary Educator of the Year award from the Education Center (The Edu Ctr) in 2020 and in 2021, I was awarded an honorary doctorate in Public Service from the Denver Institute of Urban Studies & Adult College. I’ve partnered with SparqU, Kyngs & Queens LLC, Print Synergy, CrossPurpose, Metro DEEP, African Leadership Group, Energize Colorado, Colorado FutureTek, All That I Am, and Montbello Organizing Committee, among others.

I say all this to recognize that it is wonderful to see the fruit of the harvest after all the years of hard work. I knocked on doors and spent late nights following this dream and I credit my family for keeping me going. They created the foundation because this work has been hard, but so fulfilling.

I’ve had such great teams and partners along the way, it has truly made me see the power in community.

My work now revolves around supporting entrepreneurs to attain the necessary credentials to achieve their goals, whether that is certifications in skills like social media or business communications, or championing leadership courses for organizations.

Our team was able to complete a feasibility study for the Montbello Organizing Committee which will help them to launch their business incubator this fall. We did extensive research and community engagement with business leaders and residents of Montbello to gauge what people were looking for to help guide what the program could look like. But to me, a kid from Montbello, to get this bid and do this study really meant a lot to me personally and helped solidify the choice I made to invest in my community.

I lead certification courses for adult and youth leaders, support businesses and leaders of color with resources and grants, host workshops at schools and with nonprofit partners, and sponsor community organizations.

I take great pride in providing opportunities to emerging entrepreneurs, small businesses, and local leaders aspiring to make a positive impact in our community. While it may not be possible to offer every individual every opportunity, they consistently depart equipped with the essential resources and skills needed for success, and that, to me, is genuinely rewarding.

When I talk to my three sons about their future, I tell them to follow their passion and that even if it isn’t education, like my path, there are ways to be successful without a four-year degree. It’s vital to pick up a skill and look for opportunities for certifications, but above else, be a person of value. A person who wants to bring change and pass down knowledge to others.