Alumni Success Stories

Meet Jessica Ruffin
Jessica Ruffin graduated from St. Benedict the Moor School in 1996. After attending the Ellis School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Chatham University. Jessica currently serves as Senior Leader of Equity and Inclusion in the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

EDUCATION + FAMILY SUPPORT

G
oing to St. Benedict was also my first lesson in diversity and inclusion. My family’s not Catholic, we’re African Methodist Episcopal, and my mom’s actually a pastor. But having to engage and participate in someone else’s religious practices taught me about honoring other folks’ traditions, and recognizing that there’s not just one way to go about things.

I started at St. Benedict in second grade, and that was the first time I really started to understand and explore my role as a leader. Sister Ernestine came to me and said, “I trust you, and I’m gonna ask you to become a library aide.” I became the youngest aide, and that turned,into becoming a safety officer, and then president of the student council. Going to St. Benedict, which at the time was probably 99% African-American students, helped me,to gain a level of pride in my race and my background. It was a safe space for me to try some things out and explore what leadership looked like, and I’ve carried those lessons throughout my life.

MEASURE OF SUCCESS

At St. Benedict, we had really authentic conversations, and our teachers always pushed us to learn about Black History figures you don’t typically hear of in history books. There was a really deliberate focus on African-American history, especially once I got into the upper grades, and I really appreciated that because it fueled my career interests as well. Transferring to Ellis was more of a challenge, but they did a good job about acknowledging the difficult transition and I had Extra Mile behind me.

WHAT IT TAKES

My niece is an eighth grader now at St. Benedict, and I hope she walks away with the confidence and pride in herself and heritage that I did. I think the way St. Benedict coached and trained and supported us, there was an acknowledgment that the world wasn’t necessarily built or designed for us, but there was also this oomph, this push that let everybody know that we can still figure things out, that we’ve got this. I hope my niece still walks away with that.

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