By Mandy Tracy
Using public relations to help kids achieve their dreams
Dwayne Cumberbatch never planned on entering the world of public relations. His sights were set on law school. Yet, an invite to a release party for Garnier Fructis changed his path.
His friend who invited him was an actor, and decided to tell the guests that Cumberbatch was his publicist. When the vice president of public relations for Maybelline asked Cumberbatch what the name of his PR firm was, he blurted out the first name that came into his head, Alpha II Omega Public Relations. It was the name of a mock PR firm he once created for a class in college. At the end of the night, his friend told him he should consider doing public relations for a living.
While Cumberbatch’s original plans after graduating in December of 2001 were to gain a law degree, after that party he couldn’t stop thinking about his friend’s advice. He found himself in the library learning how to start his own business.
He quickly found out that starting a business means new bills to pay, so he took a substitute teaching job at his old elementary school.
Aside from subbing in the classroom, Cumberbatch started holding fundraising events for the school. Soon enough, the Allen Christian School in Queens became his first client. By 2004, he had become the school’s program coordinator.
He started an athletic program to create publicity for the school. “I literally opened the yellow pages to find schools that would want to play basketball against them,” he says.
He found two other schools and had a few games with them. The following year he had a few more schools. Before he knew it, he had a league going with 15 schools and 23 teams from all over Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Cumberbatch then created Alpha II Omega Youth Services to help fund the program. “The program allows me to give these kids the opportunity to be active and feel good about themselves,” he says. If the program did not exist, the kids would not have anything to do. Some of the schools involved don’t even have gyms.
Cumberbatch hires 25 local high school students each year to run the games. The students learn leadership roles and what is involved in organizing an event. By the time they graduate, they have a resume most high school students would envy. “I think there is something to be said for an 18-year-old to be able to say they know bookkeeping and event planning,” says Cumberbatch.
He is now in the process of evolving his PR firm into a media group where kids can make documentaries about issues that affect the youth, such as diabetes and obesity.
Hofstra, he says, taught him to set a standard for yourself that will grab the attention of others. While here, he was given a platform in which he could practice, learn and work with other people in organizations such as the National Association of Black Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Cumberbatch, who holds his degree in Mass Media Studies, gives back to the University by offering internships to students and returning to speak to classes. “When Dwayne studied PR, we had one class with 20 students,” says his mentor and friend, PR professor Ellen Frisina. “Today we have close to 250 students. Even today, Dwayne Cumberbatch would stand out for his communication skills, personality, motivation and enthusiasm.”
Cumberbatch says Professor Frisina never saw him going to law school.