Commencement 2013: Musician, clothing designer says greatest achievement is earning URI degree

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Providence resident to earn bachelor’s degree in communications

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 14, 2013 – Ivan Brooks has sung in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Providence, and he is marketing his casual clothing line to young people across the country. His tune, Nice Girl, reached number 16 on Beatport, and Underground Music named him the 2008 Rhythm and Blues Artist of the Year. In addition, he is working on his second single.

But the Providence resident who left his home in Liberia when he was 11 to escape civil war, said earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Rhode Island May 19 will be one of his greatest accomplishments.

“When I called my mom to tell her I had picked up my cap and gown, the phone was silent for a while,” said Brooks, who graduated from Providence’s Cooley Health, Science and Technology High School. “She was crying, and then she said she was so proud of me.”

“You are a role model to your brothers and sisters,” she told her son, the first in the family to earn a college degree.

“You can’t be more proud than to bring a college degree to your mom,” Brooks said.

He entered URI as a sociology major, but his academic progress was interrupted for two years by financial obstacles.

“I was in the real world then, chasing my musical dreams and traveling,” he said. “After performing in all the clubs, I wanted to perform in schools, but Ms. (Nkoli) Onye, (executive director of performance management in the Providence School Department and former principal) asked me, ‘How can you perform in schools? You don’t even have a degree. What kind of role model will you be’?”

While developing his musical interests, he also worked at Love 4 All Learning Center, a daycare facility in Providence. “I loved working with kids, and I became a teacher there.”

But he wanted to combine his love of music, his clothing lines, Forever Music and IBMC, and his story of overcoming obstacles with his educational and business interests. After his two-year hiatus and advice from Onye to seek help with his education, he met with URI Associate Professor Lynne Derbyshire, chair of the Department of Communication Studies, who talked with him about majoring in communications and how it could help him with public relations, marketing and video.

“I am so grateful for Ms. Onye setting me straight and guiding me,” said Brooks, who offers multiple messages on his Facebook page about trusting God and staying faithful.

“Then, I met with Professor Derbyshire and showed her my portfolio and we decided this was the major for me,” Brooks said.

He is also indebted to staff members in URI’s Talent Development Program, Student Affairs, Enrollment Services, and faculty members in URI’s Communication Studies program.

The 25-year-old, whose performances at public events throughout Providence, including singing at the Martin Luther King Jr. observance earlier this year, are well known, is ready to fully pursue his music and lifestyle businesses.

He also interned in Rhode Island Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo’s office during his senior year, during which the treasurer and members of her staff mentored him.

“This is where I was able to network and make connections that can help me succeed in business.

“I am getting ready to launch my Chasing the Dream Line with other young entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s a positive brand that will focus on my positive attitude.”

When people congratulate him on his success, he responds, “Don’t congratulate me yet because I am not there yet.”

But many people believe he is already a success, including Darlene Walker, founder of Dynamic New Force drill team, of which Brooks is a member.

“She tells the younger kids, ‘We have a role model here, someone who stayed in school and who always comes back. Pay attention to him’.”

Considering that he left a nation where bullets flew through his neighborhood, who then lived in the Bronx and White Plains, N.Y. before coming to Rhode Island, it’s easy to see why his impending graduation from URI hasn’t really sunk in yet.

“When the day comes, it is going to hit me, and I will probably cry like a baby,” Brooks said. “Entering into my professional life, being able to take care of my mom, those are the things I will be celebrating.”

And if you are interested in following Brooks’ career, you can find him, his music and clothing lines on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can also go to his website,

Pictured above

PERFORMER, DESIGNER, URI GRADUATING SENIOR: Providence’s Ivan Brooks, who will earn his bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island Sunday, displays items from his clothing lines, all of which are based on his singing and performing career.

URI Marketing & Communications photo by Michael Salerno Photography.