College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Academics > African and Black Diaspora Studies > About > Alumni Profiles
What have you been up to since graduation? After graduating, I went on to attend the Urban Teacher Education Masters Program at the University of Chicago. I spent my first year studying the histories and philosophies of education and tutoring CPS students around the city and I taught a cohort of students during a Summer enrichment program. This year, I’ve been in two different CPS schools completing my residency. Throughout my residencies, I’ve taught some really cool things. One unit that I’m most proud of was my unit on gentrification in Chicago. It was truly a sight to see 9-year-old students talking about ownership, developers, displacement, poverty, and urban development. I’ve really used my residencies to test just how much our young students can do and comprehend. I’ve really tried to develop a teaching practice that is both representative and relevant to the students in front of me. I’m always thinking about the ways in which I could bring in student’s life experiences into an academic setting - the same way ABD did it for me. Outside of teaching, I’ve grown a love for travel, fitness, museums, theatre, photography, and painting. When I’m not with students, you can probably find me doing any of those things.
What led you to declaring an ABD major in undergrad? I came into DePaul as a Psychology major with a focus on Human Development. I was, honestly, misinformed. I didn’t understand racism as structural but as an individual dislike for another individual. I went to an event that the Lambda Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. hosted on campus where they screened a documentary called Hidden Colors. While I realize now that some things in the documentary aren’t completely true, I value it for what it did for me. It exposed me to the history of the Black Diaspora before and beyond slavery. I realized how much was missing from my education and I decided to be intentional about seeking out this information and learning more. I, then, changed my major to ABD. The more ABD classes I took, the more I was able to learn about oppressive structures and systems and more Truth. In addition to that, I was finally able to see myself in my coursework and amongst my peers.
How has declaring a major in ABD helped you in your post-graduate life? When I still attended DePaul, I didn’t realize how much ABD would help me in the future. In my graduate program, a great majority of people in my cohort were not able to understand systems, oppression, and had never thought about race. Because I was well-read and had done a lot of that work in undergrad, it was an easy adjustment to be critical of history and other oppressive issues having to do with education in Chicago. I was able to critically think about and question in a way that other people were not used to at all. I also just knew a lot about the issues affecting Black people and in a program that prepares teachers to teach Black and Brown students in the city. For example, I was able to connect the mass racialized incarceration to the school-to-prison pipeline to the disproportionate discipline of Black boys and girls in schools to teacher bias. These connections were fairly easy for me. It absolutely made me a stand out student amongst everyone else in the Cohort.
What would you say to anyone deciding on declaring an ABD Major?Do it. Even while I was still at DePaul being in Psych or Poli Sci classes, I had a frame of mind and a contextual understanding that other students just did not have. Whether you plan to continue on in your education or start your career, the rigorous curriculum and high expectations that are expected from you from faculty pay off in any context. The pride and confidence you get from knowing who you are and studying Blackness and the world is something that others cannot emulate.
What are your long term goals as it relates to ABD? I just accepted a job as a Middle Grades Social Studies Teacher. As it relates to African and Black Diaspora Studies, I plan to teach my students about history from a non-Eurocentric view. My class will be called ‘Social Studies’ however it’ll be a course about Race and a course about Identity and a course about freedom. My classroom will provide students with a culturally relevant and sustaining curriculum which means that students see themselves in the curriculum, their identities are affirmed in academic spaces, and their experiences in the world as children of color are valued and welcomed in my classroom. Most importantly, I will teach students about the systems that exist in the world, teach them to (1) navigate them because we must survive and (2) to use whatever their passion is to do their part in dismantling that system. I would not be able to do this well if I, myself, didn’t dedicate my time to studying history and social issues amongst the Black Diaspora.
What have you been up to since graduation? Please inform us about: a) any postgraduate education (where, what field, what degree[s] received, etc.) After graduating from DePaul, I joined Teach For America and became a high school special education reading teacher. I taught 9th grade reading for two years and during this time I obtained M.S in Special Education. I currently teach 9th-grade social studies and will be beginning my Ph.D. in History at UIC in fall 2019.
What are your future goals/plans? I plan to enroll in graduate school where I will research the agency of African American women during reconstruction/post-reconstruction. After this, I plan to become a professor of history. As an educator, I am also interested in curriculum development, particularly social studies curriculum in predominately African American schools.
What drew you to ABD in the first place? I was always passionate about African American/African history. In high school, the only outlet was through history and literature courses and this outlet was small and often from the perspective of whites. In college, I thought my experience would be the same. I was not only pleased but ecstatic to discover that there was a program dedicated to the study of the African diaspora.
What skills, knowledge, etc. did you gain from your ABD course of study? As an ABD major, I took courses on the African American experience, African history, and Afro-Latino culture. These courses provided me with the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to examine the diversity within the diaspora while also analyzing the diaspora as a whole. I studied Black thought, Black revolutions, Black women, Black culture, and so much more which gave me a perspective of the world that I was able to bring into the history classes I took. This was important given that as a History major I of-ten found the voices, experiences, and thoughts of the African diaspora to be absent. Double majoring in History and ABD provided me with critical reasoning and analytical skills, research experience, taught me how to construct and support an argument in a clear and persuasive manner, and how to analyze the intersectionalities of history.
Is there anything you would like prospective ABD minors/majors to know about how your experience with African and Black Diaspora Studies? This could be in specific or even in very broad ways. Know that ABD will offer a great deal to your academic experience, however it will offer so much more to your personal development. ABD was home for me. It was where I found my voice. It was where I could go and see myself and see the possibilities of what I could become. ABD made me feel proud of my identity when there were moments I felt like the world was crushing, silencing and killing people all over the world that look like me. ABD gave me hope. It is my wish that as an ABD minor/major or if you just take a few classes that ABD is the same for you and so much more.
Any other nuggets of wisdom for our current students about undergraduate or postgraduate life? It is ok if you do not have it all figured out. It is also ok if you think you have it figured out and life takes a different turn.
Remember that Frederick Douglass said, “power concedes nothing without a de-mand”. You cannot demand something you do not know you need.
What have you been up to since graduation?
I am currently still attending DePaul University as a "Double Demon." I am heading into the final two quarters of my masters program where I am getting my Master's in Public Policy. I am also interning for the Kennedy Forum, an organization named after President Kennedy and created to educate about and assist with mental health in marginalized communities. The Kennedy Forum is an organization dedicated to changing the system surrounding mental health by fighting stigma and discrimination while promoting policies that focus on person-centered care practices.
This past summer I interned for the 46th ward Alderman James Cappleman and was able to gain a better understanding of local political office. I applied for the position with the Kennedy Forum because they primarily work with the Black community, and that is the community that I most want to help bring positive change to in my career. I live in the 46th ward and wanted to play a part in helping leave a positive impact on my community instead of being a passive constituent. One of the positions I am seriously considering is being a legislative aid for a Congressperson or working for a public policy think tank.
My ultimate goal is to be an active leader in the development of public policy to improve conditions in marginalized communities (specifically Black communities) and correct social injustices and inequality in this country and abroad. It is my strong belief that we are all interconnected and no matter what our background or culture, our lives all intersect in some way.
What is something you have gained by majoring in African and Black Diaspora Studies?
The ABD major opened my eyes to many of the circumstances locally, nationally, and globally that affect not only the African American community, but all parts of the African and Black Diaspora. The knowledge gained through my ABD degree has led to my pursuit of a Master's in Public Policy. Reading and learning about the negative implications that policy decisions have had and continue to have on Black people in the United States and across the world instilled a desire in me to make a change.
What would you tell any prospective ABD minors/majors?
Three things I would tell any prospective ABD minors/majors to better prepare them for life after declaring would be: 1. Prepare to be pushed, do not take an ABD class unless you are ready to think critically and be able to expand your frame of thinking. I was a student-athlete and I remember an advisor telling me that ABD classes were challenging as if to deter me from taking them, but she only made me want to take them more 2. It is one of the best decisions you can make with your time at DePaul. All of my ABD teachers were phenomenal and each class is filled with so much interesting and insightful information. Be sure to consume as much knowledge as you can. 3. Be prepared to be frustrated with society after taking these classes. Frustrated because you are just now learning who you are, frustrated because of some of the history, and frustrated when you gain a better understanding of why American society is at the place it presently is.
Any other advice for prospective ABD students?
I definitely encourage you to explore any topic you are interested in now. I often find myself wishing I had taken a class in a certain subject and being frustrated that I don’t have that opportunity anymore. Those four years of undergrad go by like the blink of an eye and this vast array of knowledge won't be as easily accessible. Really take a moment to think about what you could potentially see yourself doing post graduation. Once you have done that take a class geared toward it, talk to someone currently in that position, and maybe intern somewhere similar.
Rahwa Sebhat graduated in 2015 with a
BA in African and Black Diaspora Studies. After taking a little time away from
school, she just finished her first year of classes at Northeastern University
School of Law in Boston.
During the summer of 2018, Rahwa will be interning at the Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) in their
Family Defense Practice (BFDP). This specific unit of BDS offers legal
representation to clients who cannot afford attorneys, but are involved in the
child welfare system. At this point, Rahwa intends to pursue two main areas of
the law: civil rights and criminal defense.
Rahwa's work in ABD gave her a solid footing for her law school work. She says that ABD helped her
develop strong critical analytical skills, that allow her to locate “gaps in
information, thinking about why those gaps exist, and filling them in ourselves
is crucial to critical thinking, in my opinion. ABD helped me to read between
the lines and observe the details, while maintaining a watchful eye at the
larger systems at work.”
To our current students,
Rahwa says, “I think that anyone who takes any course ABD offers should lean in
and take every moment to learn. Upon graduating college, you truly begin to
realize that access to a lot of this knowledge is not readily accessible; or
one might find it hard to know where exactly they should start on gathering or
learning information….Also, currently being in a classroom of
almost sixty people with only four Black students in it really makes you
appreciate the diversity of the classroom environment that ABD provides – don’t
take that for granted!”
Devan Owens graduated in 2015 with a BA in Psychology and a minor in African and Black Diaspora Studies and will be earning a MS in Behavior Analysis from National University very soon! She is currently working as a licensed behavior technician. Additionally, she is the event coordinator for a non-profit called Jazz Hands for Autism, which serves adults with autism wanting to pursue music. Devan is responsible for working out the logistics of events, ensuring that each event is “popping and running smooth”.
In the future, Devan would like to return to her roots of working within communities. She plans to “rediscover my love for youth activism in a community sense and return to my passion for serving the black community”.
Through her ABD coursework, Devan gained “a newfound sense of pride for my people, my blackness, and myself that I never had or was encouraged to find”. She feels that ABD, “facilitates a sense of community among students and discussions that need to be held not only around campus, but around the world”.
Devan’s words of wisdom to students: “Be ambitious, be hungry, but be cautious. And don’t allow comparisons to others or unmet expectations about your life slow you down or make you feel any less worthy. Everyone’s journey looks very different”.
After graduating from DePaul in 2014 with a BA in African and Black Diaspora Studies, Camille Lester went on to pursue a M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Marquette University and graduated in May 2017. She is currently an instructor at Marquette. She has taught and created courses surrounding issues of diversity, inclusion, and privilege. Additionally, she is a mental health clinician at a community clinic in the inner-city of Milwaukee, WI. She provides low-cost/free services to children, couples, and families, and provides accessible, culturally sensitive psychoeducation, group, family, and individual therapy.
Camille created and co-facilitates the Malkia Circle, which is a healing and restorative space created for women of color. She also created and facilitates “What’s Going On!?”, a safe space created for students of diverse cultural backgrounds to “vibe to Marvin Gaye and express themselves through poetry and open discussion”.
In the future, Camille plans to become a Professor of Psychology, studying the intersection of Blackness and psychology. She wishes to address the lack of representation of Black women in the field of Psychology and promote a sense of belonging for people of color within the academy.
Through her ABD coursework, Camille “was challenged. I existed. I found a voice that I didn't know I had. I was excited to read, write, and grow as a scholar … I gained a sense of identity, language, community, and pride during my course of study. I learned new ways to analyze literature and effectively communicate my thoughts”.
The wisdom that Camille would like to pass on to students is: “We all know the old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ in many ways, ABD is a village that is invested and enthusiastic about the individual growth of each student … Get to know the professors, go to office hours, see what’s on their bookshelves, and pick their brains. They are all brilliant, full of wisdom, and insight”.
Heather Perkins graduated with a BA in African and Black Diaspora Studies in 2013 and recently earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Chicago. She currently is a Clinical Case Manager at UCAN Chicago, an organization that provides supportive services to at-risk youth and promotes positive youth development, diversity, and advocacy.
Before interning and securing a position at UCAN Chicago, Heather worked at the McGaw YCMA in Evanston, IL. She was the coordinator for several youth-centered programs such as the Power Scholar pilot program, Summer Adventure Camp, and the School’s Out after school program. Additionally, she mentors young ladies from the Achievers Program and Teens II Queens program at the McGaw YMCA.
In the future, Heather would like open a holistic psychotherapy practice for women of color, earn a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, and become an esteemed author.
Through her ABD coursework, Heather has gained “a historical lens that allowed me to think critically of social movements and women participation/representation in movements, a purpose of serving other black folks, which influenced my decision to get an MSW, and fostered a tight-knit community”. She feels that her “ABD degree was invaluable as it taught me how to think critically of my black identity…”
Heather’s advice to current and potential ABD students: “Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself regardless of how small it may seem, build a network that includes faculty, staff, and students, and learn different strategies to voice your concerns or to be advocate for someone else”.
After graduating from DePaul in 2012 with a BA in African and Black Diaspora Studies, Jaymee Lewis-Flenaugh went on to complete her Masters of Science in College Student Personnel at Western Illinois University. While at Western Illinois, Jaymee received the Diversity Award for her role as coordinator of the Sacred Circle, a male and female mentorship and dialogue initiative. She has her sights on ultimately pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership, with a focus on African-Americans in higher education. But for right now, she is enjoying traveling and working.
We remember Jaymee fondly and are proud of what she’s been able to achieve. We like to ask our alumni to send some wisdom to our current and potential ABD students. Jaymee says, “I would encourage anyone to ensure that you build the relationships with faculty and staff in the department and hold on to them because the beauty of the people in the program is that they are invested in you as a learner.” Reflecting on her time in ABD classes, Jaymee remembers that “the faculty cared about the ways in which you approached the work. It was very common that you were asked your opinions and even challenged on them to create positive dialogue.”
In August 2015, she moved to Ohio to take a position as Residence Hall Director at Miami University (Ohio). She reports that she loves Ohio and her work at Miami (Ohio). She says that she has “had the great experience to utilize my degree in ABD in many spaces within higher education. Currently, I serve on a diversity and inclusion committee, I present on racial battle fatigue for professionals in higher education, and consider myself an active member of the Black Student Affairs Professionals population. Whether in writing, speaking engagements, or committee work, I enjoy creating spaces of support for those of the African diaspora.” She has found a path that allows her to continue the work she started here at DePaul.
Johnathan Fields left DePaul with a BA in African and Black Diaspora Studies (2011) and headed to New York City. While in New York, he worked as the Strategic Initiatives Manager at Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, which produces the news site Colorlines and organizes the country’s largest multiracial conference on racial justice, Facing Race. Johnathan has also worked as the Operations Director for the writer and media personality Janet Mock.
He is now pursuing a Master’s in Media Management at the New School in New York City. Johnathan is interested in moving into television production and be a creator in the next generation of media and storytelling. He’s also currently working on a web series and a memoir.
Johnathan says that his time studying in African and Black Diaspora Studies at DePaul “helped me get free and taught me how to show up in the world.” “This program cracked me open and gave me a framework to explore history, culture, identity and the world from a de-colonial perspective. Without it, I may have never understood the importance of the Harlem Renaissance and Negritude, or bell hooks, James Baldwin, Paul Robeson and Franz Fanon’s work.”
Johnathan has important advice for our current and potential students: “Put what you’re learning in class into conversation with what you’re experiencing and/or witnessing in life. Your coursework is not divorced from your life – be it the world at large on life here on DePaul’s campus.” After graduation, Johnathan advises students to “Think outside the box. ABD is useful in any field you want to move into. Don’t be afraid to use your degree creatively. Have a vision for what you want out of your future and be strategic about how you pursue it. Name what you want and go after it. And don’t forget you have a community in this program.”
After graduating in June of 2010 with a BA in African and Black Diaspora Studies, Whitney Gaspard “left my cute Lakeshore Dr. apartment, worked all summer in the McNair (Program) office and jumped on an Amtrak train to New York to pursue a MA in Social and Cultural Analysis from NYU.” She wrote what she describes as a “very ambitious master’s thesis about the pop cultural relevance and black feminist theory in the performance work/art of Grace Jones, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna."
Her work at NYU allowed her to meet a lot of people and to be active in a number of areas. She was a moderator for the National Urban League of Young Professionals “State of Young Black New York” conference. She worked actively with her church and co-chaired a very fulfilling Career Day for over 200 attendees in Harlem. And she got to participate in “cool events like Black Girls Rock, New York Fashion Week, ESSENCE Fest, etc.”
While still in school, she interned at ESSENCE.com where she worked as an editorial assistant. From ESSENCE, she went to Good Morning America as a booking intern, until she landed a position in Viacom’s Ad Sales department.
But her heart and head were calling for more study. Whitney tells us, “I had a number of really cool jobs, I also sacrificed time needed to work on my thesis writing and I found that I disavowed my work for a whole year! (I do not recommend this.) I later got it together because I genuinely missed writing and working on something that I loved. And ultimately, what helped me to cross the finish line was a reignited love and respect for my own work. Writing about celebs is cute, but writing about the cultural significance of those celebs felt much better to me.” Her next steps will be working towards a PhD and writing a novel.
What advice does she have for our students? “To all the current and will-be majors and minors in ABD, take advantage of your professors. They are brilliant – and you are too. Allow them to push your abilities and to teach you. Your time as an undergrad will whisk past you so quickly and six years later you’ll find yourself writing to aspirational students just like I am doing now. As an ABD student, I was empowered. I learned the difference between education and knowledge which was extremely empowering for me as a young college student. My time in ABD was a very formative period. I learned, stumbled, questioned and crafted my own thoughts that proved to be immeasurable in my current life. And to this day, I thank the faculty for their commitment to making me, not just a student, but a scholar.”
Jade Petermon graduated with a bachelor’s in African and Black Diaspora Studies in 2008. Since then, Jade has earned both a master’s (2010) and a PhD (2014) in Film and Media Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Her dissertation is entitled Hyper(in)visibility: Reading Race and Representation in the Neoliberal Era. It examines black visibility across several media platforms in the contemporary era and she is now doing the work to get a book contract for it.
We at ABD are pleased to report that Jade is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Black World Studies at Miami University-Hamilton. Jade says of her own former professors in ABD, “I learned so much from them, not only about black studies, but also about the value of thinking and writing critically. I often tell my students about how they discovered the academic in me long before I did.”
Jade carried the energy for social justice that she developed through her ABD studies to graduate school. While at UCSB, she was involved with the Women of Color Revolutionary Dialogues (or W.O.R.D). W.O.R.D. is a community of both graduate and undergraduate women of color committed to working through issues of institutionalized racism, sexism and homophobia through writing, performance and service. Most of their service work focuses on healing through art in schools in Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities.
We asked Jade to pass on some wisdom for our current students now that she has the benefit of hindsight. She says to students: “Be patient with yourself. Also, develop a practice of self-care as soon as possible and protect it as if your life depends on it. I assure you, it does depend on it.”
Jade wants our students to recognize that “progress is not linear. It is true that I went straight to graduate school and I secured a position six months after my degree was conferred but that is just facts. There was a lot of hard in between all of that. That is life. Try your best to take things in stride and not give up on yourself. There is a lot to be gained if you don’t give up, no matter how abysmal things seem.”