Alumni Spotlights

Dr. Clement Kwakye: Blazing a Trail for Others to Follow

Clement Kwakye, Ph.D.’20

Clement Kwakye, Ph.D.’20

A less determined man might have given up.

Clement Kwakye, Ph.D.’20, was an undocumented immigrant from West Africa whose quest for a college education was not deterred by the fact his status made him ineligible for financial aid or by those who advised him against pursuing one.

Now he wants to help others like him achieve their educational goals.

In his office, tucked at the top of the stairs in a building that houses the Greater Buffalo Accident & Injury Chiropractic and Queen City Physical Therapy, he proudly displays the degrees he’s earned and his membership certificate to Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education. He speaks of a life enriched by blessings and guided by mentors, and his quiet tenacity is obvious as he talks about his life.

Clement was nine years old when he left Ghana to live with his father, who had immigrated to the United States a few years before in an effort to provide a better life for his only child. His mother joined them the following year. Originally settling in Newark, N.J., the family moved to Buffalo, N.Y., in 1995 when his father was hired by the US Post Office.

“Coming to Buffalo and seeing houses, no high rises, kids being able to go outside and play on the street, it was just a total change for me,” Clement says, noting that he lived in a 25-story apartment complex in New Jersey, in a neighborhood so rife with violence that he could not play outside.

In Buffalo, Clement attended local public schools and played sports, graduating from high school in 2003. His parents had always instilled in him the importance of education, so he enrolled at Monroe Community College and then at Buffalo State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication. Because he was not eligible for financial aid, his parents worked tirelessly to finance his education and he was able to graduate with no student debt, he says.

While at Buffalo State, Clement obtained an internship at WKBW-TV with the Western New York Minorities Media Professionals program, which sharpened his focus on television production and introduced him to co-founder Mike Quinniey, who became a mentor.

“He took me under his wing and taught me everything I needed to know when it comes to television production,” Clement says. 

Quinniey also connected Clement with his first job in the field after graduation as a freelance videographer and editor for “Health Now,” a television show that aired throughout Western New York. He produced more than 50 episodes, which featured prominent government and healthcare leaders in Buffalo and highlighted resources for that city’s underserved population. When the show came to an end, his relationship with the show’s host continued. The entrepreneur, who became another mentor for Clement, offered him a position as intake coordinator for a clinic he operated, and when he launched a medical supply company, he encouraged Clement to pursue his MBA so that he could help run the business.

After completing his MBA at Medaille in 2013 and managing the marketing, planning, and development for that company for a few years, Clement joined the Community Health Center of Buffalo as a project manager. Just a few months later, he was promoted to director of operations for the organization’s two Niagara County sites. One of the locations was “down the street” from Niagara University and, although he had never considered pursuing a Ph.D., CHCB’s tuition reimbursement program offered him the opportunity, so he took advantage of it.

Clement drew from his personal experience to write his doctoral thesis, “The Persistence to Pursue A College Education Among Immigrants with Different Profiles and Varying Backgrounds: A Capability Theory Approach,” and interviewed both documented and undocumented immigrants, who gave him differing perspectives of the challenges they face when pursuing higher education. He realized that many immigrants were hoping for a better life through education, but that limited resources were available to them.

So he decided to do something about that. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Leadership and Policy from NU in 2020, he left CHCB and took some time to spend with his family and consider what he wanted to focus on next. He came up with the concept for a nonprofit organization that will connect the undocumented with resources and services to help them achieve their education goals, which he called the Brighter Future Education Network.

“I wanted to start that,” Clement says, “because, looking back on my own experience, I had the support system to be able to help me. But not everyone has that opportunity, and from doing my research and my dissertation, and the individuals I interviewed, it really opened my eyes to want to help give individuals of that population a safe place where they can come and get the resources and the help that they need. That’s what the organization is focused on—being able to give everyone the opportunity for a just and equitable education.”

During that time, Clement also started a for-profit company, CK Bottles 4 Bucks, LLC, to provide opportunities for his own children.

Although I started the business, it’s really for my children to one day take over and make it their own,” he says. His 18-year-old son is already operating the business while Clement works his day job as director of operations for the Greater Buffalo Accident & Injury Chiropractic and Queen City Physical Therapy (another opportunity provided to him through a mentor). “One day, I would like to see both him and my two little ones running the organizations that I’ve been able to put in place. But at the end of the day, I’m not going to force it on them. They’ll have the opportunity to do whatever they want to do in life, and my wife and I will be there to support them every step of the way.”

Clement notes that, in addition to helping his children become entrepreneurs, he is also involved in organizations that empower youth to become leaders. He is a member of the boards of the Health Sciences Charter School and HEAL International, and he continues to produce, direct, and mentor through Western NY Minority Media Professionals.

“At the end of the day, when I’m no longer around, I want to make sure that my family is well-taken care of, and that I’ve left an impact in the communities that I serve and the people that I serve, as well,” he says. “Everything that I do, I don’t do it for me. I’m always keeping others in mind and I think having that passion is what drives me every day to wake up and just keep pushing. Coming from nothing and being able to work my way up to where I am now, the sky’s the limit.”