A seat at the table

A seat at the table

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A future in immigration law awaits SGA president and former trustee Rbrey Singleton

Rbrey Singleton can discuss Constitutional law in depth, quote full passages of Robert F. Kennedy’s speeches, and speak at length about national immigration policies.

At heart, he’s an American.

“I’ve always been a patriot,” says Singleton, president of the Rowan University Student Government Association and a former student trustee on the University’s Board of Trustees.

“As the son and grandson of Nicaraguan immigrants, I understand how important it is for people to come to America and chase their dreams.”

His bachelor’s degree in political science, summa cum laude, from Rowan’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences now in hand, Singleton is poised for the next step in his own American dream. Accepted at every law school he applied to—eight in all—he’s heading to law school at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth en route to becoming an immigration attorney.

UMass offered Singleton a Public Interest Law Fellowship, which will cover half of his tuition. The fellowship trains students for careers in public service and requires fellows to commit to practice public interest law for four years following graduation.

‘It’s the most transformative position I’ve ever had’

That work is a perfect fit for Singleton, whose Rowan undergraduate career has been distinguished by his advocacy—and hard work—to improve the lives of University students.

Elected as a student trustee in his sophomore year, Singleton quickly gained an appreciation for the inner-workings of the University’s administration.

“It’s the most transformative position I’ve ever had,” says Singleton, who admits to feeling intimidated at first to sit alongside his fellow trustees. “I learned about the strategic thinking that goes into leading the University.

“That experience was really special to me. I earned my seat at the table. I stood up for students’ rights.”

Addressing food insecurity

To that end, Singleton, who served on the University’s Affordability Task Force, worked to educate board members and the University community about food insecurity on Rowan’s campus.

In a campus-wide student survey in 2016, 44 percent of student respondents said they sometimes didn’t have enough food to eat. Singleton and other students got to work, organizing a petition campaign—gathering more than 1,000 signatures, including 500 in a single day—and drafting legislation to the SGA seeking a $30,000 grant to establish a campus food pantry for students.

The legislation passed and, in March of 2017, The SHOP (Students Helping Other Profs) opened in a space in Rowan Boulevard Apartments. Since then, 2,000 unique students have visited The SHOP for non-perishable food, personal care items and school supplies, according to Singleton.

“Establishing The SHOP really, really made me Rowan proud,” says Singleton.

Last fall, Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, established a Friday distribution site on Rowan’s campus. Rowan students and community members visit the site weekly for fresh fruits and vegetables.

The idea for the food pantry received immediate support from board members, the SGA, and Rowan faculty and staff, says Singleton, who worked to secure the pantry space and to gather donations of supplies and monetary donations of more than $45,000.

“Our board members were integral in helping us start our food pantry,” says Singleton, who served on the Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and University Advancement Committees on the board.

“They stepped up. That taught me that leadership is about how you treat the people who can’t do anything for you. I know that’s a cliché. But it’s true.”

‘I always try to think about what’s best for students’

With that in mind, running for SGA President was the next logical step for Singleton. It’s a role he embraced. As president, he served Rowan’s population of more than 19,400 students, helped manage a $1.4 million budget distributed to more than 135 clubs and organizations, and was the liaison between the SGA and Rowan administrators.

One of his proudest moments came last month. When a handful of protestors came to campus with messages of hate against the LGBTQ community and others, Rowan students stood united, demonstrating a community of inclusion, diversity and care.

Singleton was on site, taking the microphone and encouraging students to celebrate campus diversity. Later, he sent a communication to all students that said, in part, “I am so honored to be able to represent a student body that supports each other regardless of gender, race, sexual identity and religious creed. Your voices are heard and our message of love is strong.”

“The way our students responded was amazing…so many unique students from different backgrounds organizing together,” says Singleton. “That was nothing our administration did. That was the will of Rowan students.

“In situations like that, I always try to be intentional and stay in the moment. I always try to think about what’s best for students.”

Rising

Earlier this spring, Singleton spoke at the launch of Rising: The Campaign for Rowan University, the institution’s first comprehensive campaign. Trustee Jean Edelman, a co-chair of the campaign, sat back and listened as Singleton spoke. Edelman, who was Rowan’s first female SGA president, served with him on the Academic Affairs/Student Affairs Committee on the board.

“He was amazing. He spoke without notes. At that dinner, I didn’t see him as a student. I saw a confident young man,” says Edelman, who clearly remembers meeting Singleton for the first time.

“I met him at a board meeting and I remember thinking, ‘There’s something very, very special about this young man,’” Edelman says. “Even as a sophomore, he had charm, charisma and a command of himself. He stands with so much confidence, inner wisdom and an ability to relate to others. I know he will do so well in life. He will be someone we will remember.”

Embracing the moment

Singleton can trace his interest in leadership to a single moment in American history. On Election Night 2008, he watched TV from his parents’ three-piece sectional couch in Haledon as Barack Obama was elected president. Earlier in the day, his dad, a social worker, took him into the voting booth to pull the lever. And, the following January, the two went to Washington, D.C. for Inauguration Day.

“From that moment on, I wanted to be just like him,” Singleton says of Obama. “I was in sixth grade then and had never followed a campaign.

“For the first time, I saw someone be president who reminded me of myself. At the Inauguration, I couldn’t even see the JumboTron. My dad was really focused on me embracing that moment. That was the first time I was really, really ecstatic to be an American.”

Singleton’s mom, who was 18 when she had him and now works in healthcare, grew up in Nicaragua. At family gatherings, he’d sit at the knee of his grandfather, listening.

“I was always the weird kid listening to the older folks,” says Singleton, who has been a Rowan resident assistant for three years.

During his Rowan career, Singleton completed two internships that showed him that his career path to immigration law was the right one. In 2017, he was a constituent service intern for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat who is running for president in 2020. His work in Booker’s South Jersey office included community outreach and assisting constituents, including many immigrants, he says.

“That gave me a look at the ground level of the political system,” Singleton says.

Last summer, he was a legislative communications intern for 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East, the nation’s largest healthcare union. In that work, among other duties, he did some lobbying on behalf of the union.

Ripple of hope

A mentee of Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Richard Jones and a recipient of an Achieving the Dream Scholarship, Singleton says his Rowan years have been distinguished by great lessons, both big and small.

“Dean Jones helped me throughout college, professionally and personally. He made me feel at home at Rowan,” says Singleton, who chose Rowan in part because Jones remembered him on his second visit to the University.

“From Dean Jones I learned the importance of not being afraid to fail.

“The biggest lesson Rowan has taught me is that there’s a reason for every lesson, every failure, every accomplishment. If there’s something I haven’t accomplished, it wasn’t for me to do.”

Helping others—assisting them to secure their own seats at the table no matter their backgrounds—is what drives him, he says.

“Once you go through the door, you have to reach back in that door and help somebody else,” he says. “I’m really most proud of the way I used my platform at Rowan to help other people, whether it was at the trustee table, in the SGA office or taking the microphone at a protest. I get frustrated by people who don’t use their platforms for good.”

In explaining, he references Sen. Robert Kennedy’s famous “Ripple of Hope” speech, delivered 53 years ago in South Africa at the height of apartheid.

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,” Kennedy said in part.

“We need,” Singleton says simply, “to keep that energy going.”