How do you go from South Central to Princeton? This amazing Black woman did it
By Dr Boyce Watkins
Dominique Reese ’06 never forgot her South Central Los Angeles roots. She was the first graduate of Crenshaw High School to attend Princeton, the first person in her family to attend college, and now is operating a business that teaches financial literacy to low-income youth and adults.
She says she is living proof that after-school programs work. In high school, she took part in the Riordan Scholars Program, a highly successful initiative that helps students from underserved communities achieve their college dreams through Saturday seminars at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. It was there that a fellow program participant, who later attended Princeton, first told her about the University.
“He encouraged me to apply and that was that,” says Reese. She was accepted at eight of the country’s top universities, but says she chose Princeton because of its remarkable “no loan” financial aid program. “None of the other schools could beat Princeton’s financial aid package,” she says.
Once at Princeton, Reese became an economics major. She met Jean Baldwin Grossman, a professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs who is an expert on after-school and youth-mentoring programs for disadvantaged youth. And with Grossman as her adviser, Reese put her dual passions to work, writing her senior thesis on the effects of after-school programs on graduation outcome and community-service participation, while also analyzing the economic implications of such programs for society at large.
She tested her scholarship in the real world. Reese became one of the first coordinators of the Black Student Union’s Leadership and Mentoring Program (LAMP), a program that she says assists “students of color with their transition to college, pairing incoming freshmen with mentors, either juniors or seniors, and providing programming throughout the year, preparing them mentally, academically, personally and socially.”
She also was director of the Black Arts Company, a campus dance troupe that explores the varied dance traditions of the African Diaspora. “Programs like this are part of what makes Princeton special,” says Reese, “because they allow students to express themselves creatively and socially, while enjoying the best academic experience in the country.”
After graduating, she went to work as an analyst for Merrill Lynch in Hopewell, N.J. She took advantage of the economic downturn a few years later to return to her passions. In 2009, she founded CommuniTree LLC, a business dedicated to teaching financial literacy to youth and adults. The company, based in New York City, provides one-on-one money management counseling, financial literacy sessions and financial education programs for nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
“I enjoy my career as a social entrepreneur, and in true Princeton fashion strive to be in the nation’s service by annually educating 120 American youth and adults about money,” she says. Reese also volunteers with the South Central Scholars Alumni Association in Los Angeles, where she teaches eighth grade students about college; has mentored youth in Harlem and Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood; and is a Big Sister and national mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.