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Staff Snapshot: Jamal Myrick, writer and champion of Black fatherhood

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Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique experience for everyone. For some, it has provided an opportunity to reflect, put life into perspective and grow. Such was the case for Jamal J. Myrick, Ed.D., director of African Student Programs (ASP)  at UC Riverside, who channeled his uncertainty during this time into positive momentum — and realized his longtime dream of writing a book.

A career in elevating others

After graduating from Florida State University, Jamal moved to Washington, D.C. While working for the United Negro College Fund, he coordinated closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation around student scholarships. It was there that his interest in higher education was sparked. “I loved working with these outstanding underrepresented students, supporting them and connecting with them,” he says. But when his supervisor suggested he work on a college campus, Jamal was skeptical. “It just didn’t sound like me.”

Still, the suggestion lingered in the back of his mind, and before long, he decided to feel the career path out for himself. Not knowing anyone in higher ed, he cold-called staff in a variety of roles at different universities to learn about their experiences. It was a success: Through this process, he found his passion and met both his mentor and his wife. He soon signed up for grad school at George Mason University, where he pursued his master’s degree while working in residential life.

After graduating, Jamal moved to California for a position as a residential director at UC Riverside. “I loved working with the first-generation underrepresented population that I connected with, that I saw a lot of myself in,” he says. “I built close relationships with our Black scholars and began serving as a mentor — and even an unofficial uncle.”

Today, Jamal and his ASP colleagues are there for Black scholars as they navigate all aspects of their college experience. He has helped seniors with mock interviews. He’s organized events that give students access to high-profile executives at companies like Disney and Pepsi Co. During the pandemic, he stepped in to support students in whatever way was needed, from housing and food to a laptop. And, as anti-Black violence proliferated in the news, he became a trusted listener and safe space for students — even when they needed someone to call in the middle of the night. 

This comprehensive approach is all part of Jamal’s overall goal to create opportunities for Black scholars that will support them through their college days and through life beyond the university. And, if students need someone to turn to even six or seven years after graduation, he’s still eager to help. “These connections are lifelong,” he says.

Realizing a longtime dream

Jamal’s journey to becoming a writer began when he was very young; as a child, he wrote and sold comic books to classmates to get extra cash for snacks. The idea for a book focused on Black fatherhood also came early — when he was still in college and not yet himself a father. “I wanted to tell the truth,” he says. “There is this outlandish statistic tossed around that Black men aren’t involved in their children’s lives, or in the family structure. But when you do the research, you find that Black fathers are often more present than their counterparts.”

Still, it wasn’t until he and his wife welcomed their daughter, Karter, that he realized just how needed information on Black fatherhood was — especially during the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing instances of anti-Black violence. “When my wife had her first ultrasound, I had to wait in the car,” he recalls.

“If you search Amazon books right now for the word ‘fatherhood,’ there are very few options. Most parenting books are geared towards mothers and mothering. Those that focus on Black fatherhood are fewer still. It was hugely important for me to have the opportunity to showcase Black men, specifically, who are very present and passionate about being active in their family lives. To sit down and talk to more than 20 men about their approach to fatherhood, and to give them an opportunity to inspire other Black fathers was amazing. Through the book, we have been able to use our own experiences to give back to our community.” 

Since writing his book, Jamal has leaned into his identity as an author and writer, contributing many articles focused on Black identity — from Black masculinity to Black health and wellness.

And, his favorite advice to give his scholars ties back to his book: “I tell them, ‘Tell other people your dreams. Share what you want to accomplish. They’ll remind you, and their encouragement will help keep you going. Because that’s what my best friend — who became part of my book — did for me.’” 

Meet Jamal

Name: Jamal J. Myrick

Job title: Director

Department/unit: African Student Programs

Location/campus: UC Riverside

When did you start working for UC? 2014

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Create new futures for Black Scholars

Why do you love working for UC? Simply put: the scholars. The scholars at UC Riverside brought me to California and continue to sustain me after all these years. They’re family to me and have been since setting foot on campus for an interview in 2014.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I run a national book club, Black Vernacular, with two of my Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. brothers and a friend of ours. Reading is very important to me. I also do a lot of service for my community — I get a lot of energy from serving others.

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? My grandmother. She had such an impact on my life and to be able to connect with her and have my daughter meet her would mean the world to me in so many ways. I’d also want to have dinner with the jazz legend, John Coltrane. His impact and storytelling through his talent has always intrigued me.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? It’s funny, the best career advice is twofold. The first is from actor, executive and entrepreneur Cameron Giles: “Nobody is going to pay you like you pay yourself.” The other is higher education legend Dr. Phillip Cockrell, who told me to “be seen doing the work.”

Learn more about Jamal and his career journey into higher ed from UC Riverside news.

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