by Claire Miller
Between working at the College of Education’s Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, running the Developing Relationships to Enhance African-American Success (DREAMS) Program and volunteering with adopted and foster children, Bryan Murray is a busy guy.
Murray, who serves as the business affairs coordinator for the Crim Center, recently sat down to discuss his job, his volunteer work and his most recent honor – receiving the 2011 Staff Torch of Peace Award from Georgia State University.
Q: In your own words, what is the mission of the Crim Center?
A: The Crim Center guarantees that every child, especially in urban areas, has a voice advocating for them and making sure that educational services are reaching them. We’re really putting research into practice. Also, we don’t just see our outreach as local – we see it as international as well, and that international influence really came to us via the late Alonzo A. Crim and the late Asa Hilliard, who was the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Urban Education in the College of Education. We want to deliver a voice and a service to those who are marginalized.
Q: What is your favorite part about your job as the business affairs coordinator for the Crim Center?
A: Typically, I manage the finances for the center and the quality of service that we’re delivering. I enjoy working with people. I think that’s a characteristic that business managers don’t always value as much. I really enjoy making the COE and the center’s missions match up with the financials – our business practices should reflect our organizations’ missions. For example, the center invests its money in children, teachers and others who are working with our public schools, and this aligns with our mission.
Q: In addition to your duties in the Crim Center, you also work with the Developing Relationships to Enhance African-American Success (DREAMS) Program. How did this program first come about, and how are you involved?
A: About five years ago, the former assistant director of the Crim Center, Dr. Susan Crim McClendon, and I visited a school that had a 60 percent dropout rate among African-American males who were going from ninth to 10th grade. Specifically, Tri Cities High School in Atlanta asked us for possible solutions and the idea for the DREAMS Program was born. Originally, DREAMS was for African-American male students, but soon we realized that there was a need for mentoring for female students as well. So we visited more schools, asked teachers to identify female students that they felt needed more support, and then drafted a curriculum to help them.
We infused a lot of mentorship and cultural components in this program. We wanted it to be culturally responsive to students whose needs were not met in the traditional sense. And, we wanted to help students find a voice in this world and help them to plug back into school. The curriculum is centered on a couple of messages: these students are of value, they are recognized for the scholars that they are, and that they come from a strong culture that still supports them. We reintroduce them to school and the opportunities that a quality education could offer them. We conduct a three-week workshop for the male and female students over the summer, and we are pushing to expand the program to six weeks. We have had some challenges, but over the years, we are becoming better at what we do. Former participants still come to visit us and they stay engaged with the program.
Q: Are there other groups or organizations you’re involved with in your spare time?
A: High on my list is the work I do with Adopted Teen Empowerment and Mentoring (ATEAM). This program is for children who have been adopted that still need support through mentorship and guidance. I love doing this kind of work because I come from that background. I’m one of the few adults at ATEAM who was adopted and works with these kids, and when I interact with them, I realize how lucky I am to have gotten to where I am today. I really enjoy working with foster care and adopted kids. Our children have forgotten how to imagine themselves differently or better, so I’m an example of what can happen. Oftentimes it takes a couple of sessions for them to realize that I was adopted as well and that I can really understand where they’re coming from. Any time I speak about adoption or have any kind of adoption message, I try to make sure that I’m very authentic and transparent, even with my emotions. It was very uncomfortable at first, but then I realized that they need to see the emotion; they need to see the pain and the real experience of how you get from A to Z, and I enjoy showing them that.
Q: You recently received the 2011 Staff Torch of Peace Award from GSU. What was that experience like?
A: Amazing. At first, I was just taken aback. However, my next thoughts were maybe the Crim Center itself should have received this award because it is really the center that has provided so many opportunities. I started out in the center as a returning professional that had accepted the role of a student assistant and was given the chance to grow again. It would have been wonderful if my former mentor, Dr. Hilliard, were here to have seen the ceremony. He would have been proud of the work that we’ve done and the progress we have made since his passing. It was an honor to receive the Staff Torch of Peace Award.