Harry Alston Jr.: Making a Career Out of Changing People’s Lives

Dr. Harry Alston Jr., a 2010 graduate of the Leadership and Change program, has a personal mission: to develop and promote programs and initiatives that positively impact and empower individuals, organizations, and their communities. Alston has always adjusted course, to find the best way to work on social and economic justice throughout his life, and remained committed to that mission throughout his career.

At a time when some people might have wanted to retire — in his 50s — Harry decided to return to school to earn his PhD, to help him support this mission by gaining another tool in addition to more than three decades of work experience as a business and management professor, corporate executive, and consultant across various industries.

Choosing Antioch was a natural choice for Dr. Alston, as learning about leadership and change management seemed to be a natural extension of work that he was already doing.

“The thing that really grabbed me about Antioch was their philosophical approach and ability to work on a mentor scholar basis,” said Alston. “It’s a small community focused on doctoral students’ success.”

Dr. Alston’s path to his degree was not an easy one, as his studies were in tandem with teaching full-time, consulting community-based organizations, and also being actively engaged in civic affairs. In addition, he chose to change the focus of his dissertation to apply his studies directly to addressing the organizational change needs of a local nonprofit agency, but he prevailed, due to his commitment to social justice and making a difference.

Alston has a strong understanding of how social and political decisions can benefit some groups and minimize others, from his younger years spent in Gary, Indiana, and the rust belt cities of the Midwest. Working in corporate America in the ‘70s and ‘80s he came to more fully understand the systems and power structures that created the barriers he faced being a black male in our society, informing his dedication to diversity and inclusion efforts.

“When I look back at my life, I think I have benefited from being given tools and supports to better navigate discrimination and deal with the misperceptions surrounding the affirmative action era. I came of age in a community that was under-resourced,” said Alston. “I was surrounded by a tremendous community of men, women, families, and educators who created a village with a focus on education and overcoming barriers.”

Now, Harry uses his past PhD training to support his work. He serves as vice president of strategic planning and fund development for Chicago-based Safer Foundation, a social services agency that aims to eliminate the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction records in a country that leads the world in the rate of incarceration. That work aligns directly with his mission, and it goes back to his desire to build a community of support like he had when he was younger.  He is also active on the board of two Indianapolis, Indiana based organizations: NXG Youth Motorsports (which provides experiential learning programs that use racing as a training tool for life skills development) and Sustainable Connexions (which works with local and global partners to help orphans and vulnerable children acquire the skills needed to survive, thrive, and excel).

He said that what he learned at Antioch gives him a much richer understanding of the information that he is looking at when he helps his agency build and support new programs and initiatives. And with that knowledge, he is truly working for the social justice philosophy that is at Antioch’s core.

Said Dr. Alston: “We are working to create a better life for people with arrest and conviction records because the collateral consequences apply whether you have been incarcerated or not. And this creates barriers to education, barriers to employment, voting — all factors that limit people’s economic mobility.”