College of DuPage alumna Ebra Buah is the recipient of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association’s 2023 Pacesetter Award.
The annual honor recognizes the accomplishments of a recent community college graduate who has overcome life’s obstacles, focused on humanitarian service and continued supporting education and community colleges.
Buah, who earned an Associate in Arts degree from COD with a focus on justice studies, works in the mayor’s office for the City of Rockford as the R3 Project manager. Having survived homelessness, domestic violence and teen parenthood, she accepts the Pacesetter Award on behalf of the many people who believed in and supported her.
“When asked about my feelings regarding the Pacesetter Award, I find it difficult to express a personal sentiment toward the award itself,” she said. “Throughout my life’s journey, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who have consistently offered their support, encouragement and guidance. Their unwavering presence has played an instrumental role in shaping my path. It is their perspective that holds paramount importance to me, prompting me to redirect the question: ‘How do you, my community, feel about our collective triumph in winning the Pacesetter Award?’
“This remarkable recognition serves as a testament to our shared dedication to serving disadvantaged populations. Wherever my career may lead me, I am humbled and honored to represent my community, and may I continue at a steadfast pace.”
Buah’s interest in criminal justice came from her own life experiences. These include living in a housing project surrounded by drugs and violence, her father’s incarceration, and becoming a guardian to her siblings after her mother’s death.
COD offers an encouraging community that acknowledges diverse experiences and values equity building.
“I was born into a community where it was not uncommon to be a justice-impacted person,” she said. “There was a constant stronghold in my community, and I wanted to further understand this system that had debilitated so many around me.”
Buah focused on her education and became the first woman in her family to graduate from high school. She enrolled at a four-year university but left when she did not feel supported on her academic journey. After becoming a mother, she faced several challenges before deciding to return to college.
“I found stability at Jubilee Village, a transitional housing program for mothers who may be at risk of homelessness,” she said. “With help and guidance, I was able to apply to College of DuPage and further my education. COD offers an encouraging community that acknowledges diverse experiences and values equity building.”
After completing her studies at COD, Buah transferred to Western Illinois University (WIU) and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in law enforcement and justice administration. While at WIU, she worked as a fair housing tester for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was a policy intern with Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton’s Justice, Equity and Opportunity initiative. She also earned the Political Science Department’s top honor.
This fall, Buah will begin law school at Mitchell Hamline School of Law while continuing her work in Rockford. In her current position, she is responsible for administering the Restore, Reinvest, Renew (R3) Program, created through a State of Illinois grant for communities that have been harmed by violence, discrimination and economic disinvestment.
Armed with the knowledge she already accumulated, Buah helped secure her father’s release from prison after 22 years. It was an emotional victory and one that fuels her determination to help others.
“I want to create long-lasting, equitable solutions for marginalized communities throughout the country, in whatever capacity that I can,” she said.
Buah believes it is never too late to start college and thanks COD for providing the support she needed to succeed.
“The Criminal and Justice Studies program can open the door for many opportunities that you may have never considered in the field, so keep an open and healthy mind for your future endeavors,” she said.
Pictured below: College of DuPage President Dr. Brian Caputo and Board of Trustees members Florence Appel, Heidi Holan and Maureen Dunne (in the third photo) congratulate Ebra Buah upon receiving the Pacesetter Award during the ICCTA awards dinner.