We had the good fortune of connecting with Glenn Harrell, MBA, M.Ed., BCBA and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Glenn, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
What was my thought process? Well, I’ve spent the last decade working in Applied Behavior Analysis, providing direct therapy to people with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities. Over the years, I’ve had the immense pleasure of providing clinical services in just about every setting (i.e., hospitals, schools, residential & outpatient treatment facilities, in-home, community, virtual, etc.) and have provided behavior analytic services to Fortune 500 companies, Politicians, Universities (i.e., USC) and more! Throughout my career, I made it my mission to provide the highest quality of care to families and stakeholders alike and dedicated myself to becoming an emblem of hope for those who followed me. As one of few, Black, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) in the country I knew that my path would be significantly different from the vast majority of my counterparts. AND I was absolutely right! I worked for some of the largest companies in the field of autism treatment and fellowed with some of the smaller boutique firms, and in each instance, my experience was pretty much the same. I never had leaders who looked like me, clients that looked like me, or colleagues that looked like me. However, I did experience a handful of low-level BIPOC clinicians, with no opportunities for growth.

After years of witnessing a lack of diversity, high burnout/turnover rates, and low employee satisfaction within the field of ABA I made a sudden, yet intentional decision in 2021 to leave the corporate sector. and venture out on my own. The lack of diversity in the field of ABA and my genuine care for people motivated me to begin consulting with companies on how they could make diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a priority. My goal was to help corporate leadership see the benefit that it would have on employee satisfaction and client outcomes. Long story short, I learned quickly that “money is the name of the game” and anything that threatened the bottom line was practically useless. So the burnout, turnover, corporate greed, and discrimination continued to thrive.

As a clinician, I’ve learned how difficult it is to deliver high-quality care when working for large companies that place PROFITS over PEOPLE. I have witnessed firsthand how limiting & honestly dangerous therapy can be when there is no diversity amongst practitioners and/or BIPOC in leadership positions to provide guidance on issues particular to marginalized communities. You cannot treat what you do not understand. Therefore you cannot treat the diverse nature of a disorder without diversity in service providers, experience, and treatment modalities. As a result of these ongoing issues within the field of ABA and my growing frustration, my company Roger Williams Academy was born.

So, my thought process behind starting my own business was simply put, . . . a response to necessity!

Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I mean… At first glance, what sets me apart from others within my field certainly has to be my race /ethnicity, and the gender I identify as. In the field of autism and developmental disabilities, there is a dramatic and disproportionate number of African-American/Black behavior analysts and an even lower number of black male analysts/therapists. Other than that, I think my intrinsic empathy, unwavering commitment to clients and employees, and dedication to improving diversity and inclusion within ABA are some things that set me apart from many of my counterparts. If we’re talking about business owners, I haven’t met anyone quite like me.

As a first-generation college graduate from the inner city of Philadelphia, my journey to where I am now, professionally, has been quite difficult. Growing up in a space where I witnessed violence, drugs, incarceration, and lack of resources destroy families, my biggest fear was never making it out of that environment. I always had an aptitude for academics & sports but knew that school was going to be my saving grace. This way, at least I could be certain that an injury wouldn’t end my career, sending me right back to the place I worked so hard to escape. So with that, I worked diligently to make good grades, spent weekends and summers participating in STEM/College-Prep programs, and worked my way into the best magnet schools in the city (because private school wasn’t an option). It also took sacrificing some of my early teenage years to help care for my younger siblings, while ensuring that I maintain my academics. I could barely think about hanging out with my friends at that age, unfortunately. My parents worked full-time jobs (sometimes multiple) just to ensure we were as comfortable as possible and had access to opportunities that they didn’t.

If you were to ask me how I did it, my answer would be kind of silly. When I was like 9-years old, I was on a basketball team called 3D. Our team name represented our acronym for success: Dedication, Determination, and Diligence. These three words resonated and stuck with me as I walked through life. Throughout all of my trials and tribulations, I stayed dedicated to my goals, determined to reach them, and diligent in my efforts to be, “twice-exceptional” in order to get the job done. These three words, the support of my family, and understanding what I needed to be, and do, to access my goals helped me through. Fast forward, four degrees, two ivy-league internships, 10-years practicing, and I’m here! That’s what it took. My goal for my company now is to continue my contributions to Autism & Developmental Disability Research, Special Education Policy, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. I have some big goals and I’m just getting started.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Hmm! I’m still a novice to the Houston scene (moving here at the start of the pandemic) but I do have a few favorite spots I really enjoy. If my best friend visited, we’d definitely do a lot of eating so we’d have to go to Burger Joint, Steak 48, Joey Uptowns, Houston’s, The Rustic, Gen Korean BBQ, The Turkey Leg Hut, and Velvet Taco. As for outings, we’d have to visit the Galleria Mall (There’s a freaking ice rink there lol), The Waterwall, Cidercade, Lost & Found, and the trendy areas on Westheimer where all the cool thrift shops are.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to dedicate this shoutout to my family and friends for their constant support. Starting a business is pretty freaking scary and I can only imagine doing it alone. Thankfully, I didn’t have to! You all are loved and appreciated.

Website: www.rogerwilliamsacademy.com

Instagram: rw.academy.aba

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/glenn-harrell-mba-m-ed-bcba-0211708b

Image Credits
Samuel Ayoade

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