Alumni Profile: Reinvesting in Richmond
Richmond Promise alum Jarschire Dennis is on a path to create change in his community.
Richmond Promise alum Jarschire Dennis, right, speaks with Executive Director Christopher Whitmore outside Richmond Promise’s office.
WHEN JARSCHIRE DENNIS LEFT RICHMOND to attend UC Merced in 2018, he knew he wasn’t leaving for good.
Nearly five years later, much has changed in the world that surrounds Dennis. Having persevered through a worldwide pandemic to earn his bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Moral and Ethic Philosophy, the Kennedy High grad returned to the Bay Area. He joined the workforce and continued to follow his passion for mental health wellness advocacy for minority youth in the Bay Area, particularly in Richmond.
These days, Dennis works as a clinical researcher at UC San Francisco. A member of the UCSF Juvenile Justice Behavioral Health (JJBH) Research Team, he works to leverage technology as a means of enhancing access to behavioral health care for youth involved in the juvenile justice, child welfare, and foster care systems.
It’s a career path shaped by his hometown.
“One of the things that propelled me to psychology as a youth was my exposure to and lived experience navigating ‘the hood’ while living in Richmond and seeing the differences in life outcomes for close friends, family, and my community compared to myself.” Dennis said. “I wanted to understand why that happened, why my peers ended up taking different paths, and how the barriers we’ve experienced while living in Richmond affected us, our future outcomes, and most importantly, discover ways that we can combat these barriers as a community.”
Part of his understanding of Richmond and professional development has been shaped by his association with local nonprofits such as Kennedy High’s Information Technology Academy, DocentYouth, NewLife Movement, Youth Finance Institute of America and his relationship with Richmond Promise.
Referring to himself as one of the “OG Richmond Promise Scholars,” Dennis joined the program early in its existence and played an active role. A close relationship with former Executive Director Jessie Stewart helped strengthen that bond, and even as he studied away from home, he maintained a connection to his community through RP.
“When I got to college, it was like, okay, now that we got you here, don’t think that we’ve abandoned you,” Dennis said. “Not only are we giving you the financial aspect, which is great, but RP also offered resources in addition to whatever you were receiving on campus and helped you find those (on-campus) resources, and once you come home we have opportunities for professional development to make sure you are getting all the skills you need to succeed.”
Those connections became especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. When society hit the pause button, the social aspect of college faded into the background.
For someone studying psychology, it also provided a period of introspection. Dennis used the pandemic period to focus on himself and his personal goals while narrowing his focus when it came to what he wanted to study.
When he returned to the classroom, he knew the academic path he wanted to follow.
That decision gained further reinforcement through working as a RP Summer Associate. By spending his summer working in his community, he got exposed to some of the barriers that some students face when it comes to accessing and utilizing the opportunities presented by higher education.
“I saw that higher education was really something that I wished a lot of my peers had gotten and had access to,” Dennis said. “Because I see how it changed my life and how it changed the lives of my peers who did have the access to it versus those who didn’t.”
At UC Merced, Dennis studied the psychology of inclusion and equity when it comes to ethnic minorities, commonly referred to as ‘Sense of Belonging’. Through the Black Research Fellowship Board of UC Merced, he looked at various ways to create a sense of belonging among different ethnic minority groups, studying specifically the experience of black students on a college campus.
That helped lead to his current role at UCSF, where he now studies the use of technology to increase access to behavioral healthcare for system-impacted youth.
Dennis says his next steps include continuing his studies to broaden his knowledge base. He’d like to obtain a clinical/counseling doctoral degree so he can return to Richmond and turn his career path into a benefit for the community.
“I’d like to be able to open a clinic to talk about and address some of the barriers around trauma and provide some locally tailored services for Richmond youth,” Dennis said. “It’s modeling and addressing how to move past those barriers, seek more for yourself, and how to become an agent for your community after you ‘made it out’ and succeeded.
“That’s really always been the goal—to be able to come back and support the community, and to realize the dream of going ‘From Rags to Riches.’”