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  • Vive Griffith

Monique Henry: Still Rising

In January 2017, Monique Henry co-presented a paper at the Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference (EQRC) in Las Vegas. Standing in front of a room full of academics on the other side of the country was not what she expected when she applied to Harlem Clemente in 2015.

Monique learned about Clemente through her job in the mailroom at Columbia University. A naturally buoyant and social person, she often spent time chatting with students as they came to pick up packages, sometimes striking up friendships. In the spring, one of those new friends stopped by with her graduation gown in hand and her mortarboard already on her head.

This made Monique reflect on the fact that she might have been graduating herself if she’d continued full-time in college. Her friend asked her, “Why don’t you go back to school? You would thrive in the classroom.”

That was the push she needed. Monique met with Maria Tetzlaff at Columbia’s Double Discovery Center, who directed her to Clemente. Monique arrived at the Clemente welcome picnic ready to restart her education. And her identical twin sister joined her.

In Clemente Monique found a community of people who were committed to learning, what she called a “built-in academic family.”

“Clemente reignited the student in me,” she says. “It challenged me to live up to my full potential. Each class gave me something to build on the foundation I already had.”

The course also changed her relationship to the city she lived in. She took field trips to museums and cultural institutions that she had never visited, even as a lifelong resident.

“As a New Yorker, sometimes you forget where you live. You just go to work and go home and you don’t take advantage of what the city has to offer,” she says. “You don’t know that you’re sitting on a gold mine.”

Monique (front row, second from L) with her sister (behind) and their Harlem Clemente class

After graduating, Monique continued with school, taking classes at LaGuardia Community College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. She was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success and earned a 4.0 grade point average.

She also reconnected with Charity Anderson, then a PhD student who was studying Clemente for her dissertation. Monique had first met Charity at the welcome picnic and got to know her as Charity observed the class during the year. But a meeting over coffee changed the dynamic of their relationship.

Charity invited Monique to co-author a paper reflecting on the qualitative research experience from the perspective of both researcher and research subject. Monique said the resulting project was one of her best experiences. She and Charity worked together on the publication and then flew to Las Vegas to present at the EQRC conference. Monique called it the “icing on the cake” of her Clemente journey.

While her experience may be an outlier – not every Clemente student ends up at a conference across the country – Monique thinks the program can open all kinds of doors. “It’s important to pay attention while you’re in the program to make the connections that will help you make the next move,” she says.

Last fall Monique and her fiancé relocated to Charlotte, NC, where they are excited to build their lives in a new city. Monique is preparing to begin classes again, this time at Central Piedmont Community College, where she’ll complete her nursing degree. She’s interested in transferring to earn her bachelor’s degree and then pursue a master’s degree to become a nurse anesthetist.

She’ll move forward armed with her bright personality, and with the skills and renewed confidence she gained in Clemente. And she’ll do it donning a favorite necklace, one connected to her goals for herself.

Around her neck Monique wears a line from poet Maya Angelou in gold script: Still I Rise. Asked what it means to her, she says, “It’s a silent affirmation. Every day you are allowed to restart, you are allowed to begin again. I am still rising because I have not yet reached my academic goals, my social goals, my spiritual goals. If I ever need a reminder, it helps so much.”

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