“I think my life’s purpose is to inspire and influence people to be their best selves—lifting as I climb, and leaving a positive impact in people’s lives,” says Hakeem Croom. As the new director of CSUDH’s Male Success Alliance (MSA), he’s in a position to do just that.
Initially formed on the CSUDH campus in 2009, MSA is a support program and campus resource designed to improve access, retention, and graduation rates for undergraduate men of color. MSA aims to support the college and career success of its members by providing academic support, professional development, and mentoring.
Croom says that his primary goal in his new position is to “help others recognize what they have inside of them, then take their gifts and spread them throughout the community.”
Born and raised in Harlem, the third of five children, Croom is a first-generation college student whose lived experiences help him connect with Toro students—particularly those in MSA. “I’ve had the pleasure of having a lot of folks really help in my personal and professional growth. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It took about three or four for me!” he laughs.
Croom left New York City at the age of 16 to attend an all-male military boarding school in Virginia. He went on to attain a bachelor’s degree in economics from Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College, one of only four all-male colleges in the country. “With my background, it’s kind of like I’ve come full circle being here at MSA and working for a program that assists male students,” he says.
A post-graduate internship at Columbia Teachers College in New York helped turn Croom’s career trajectory around. “I had planned to go into finance or investment banking,” he says. “But working there, I felt a different sense of purpose and fulfillment. I decided that I was going to pivot and go into education instead.”
A call from one of his mentors at Hampden-Sydney led him back to his alma mater, where he served in a variety of positions including assistant dean of inclusion and assistant dean of first-year transition. In 2016, he met his future wife, Ashley, a native Californian who hails originally from Rancho Cucamonga. The following year, he moved west to be closer to her. “As a New Yorker, I always wanted to live in California,” he says. “It’s 70 degrees in January? I want a piece of that!”
Croom worked as resident director at University of California, Davis from 2017 until 2019, when he moved to Sacramento State University to take the position of coordinator of their Martin Luther King Jr. Center. During this time he also completed his master’s degree in educational leadership and policy from Sac State.
When the position at CSUDH became available, Croom felt that it was a natural fit. “I was looking for an institution in Southern California that’s in line with my goals and my values. Seeing that clear alignment with who I am and my story and the things I’ve been able to do so far—it was like a perfect union. So here we are!”
Croom finds a special connection to the ‘Culture of Care’ pillar of the university’s new strategic plan. “Care is what guides the work I do, especially when working with students from underrepresented backgrounds,” he says. “I lead with love, which is something you can’t fake. The culture of care really resonates with me on a personal level. I try to be somebody that gives positivity into the world.”
Although he’s only been on campus a few months, Croom has been impressed by the passion of those he’s met at CSUDH. “People have a lot of pride working for DH,” he says. “I’ve already met quite a few folks who went to DH, then decided to return to work here, to dedicate their time, energy, resources, skills, and expertise to the next generation of Toros. That’s really impressive.”
“From what I’ve been able to see, there’s a willingness to listen and a willingness to take in that feedback and try to make the appropriate changes in that regard. So far, it’s been a pleasure, just being on campus and experiencing the energy. I’ve seen a lot of students coming into our space, so I’ve had an opportunity to talk to them in great detail and start to build that bond and connection.”
Croom has already led one MSA event, a two-and-a-half-day summer retreat that drew 19 Toro students ranging from youthful first-year students to those in their mid-30s. “We had a wide spectrum of young men of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, cultures, and age ranges. The theme of our retreat was building community and igniting scholastic endeavor. It was really impactful.”
The MSA staff and students stayed in cabins, had breakfast together, then attended workshops on everything from social-emotional learning to navigating their academic careers. “I think it really helped us to build a strong momentum going into the fall semester,” says Croom. “It was so powerful to provide a space where young males could share like their deepest, innermost vulnerabilities—those that society doesn’t often allow them to do, given how we’ve been socialized, particularly as men of color.”
“Being able to be vulnerable, shed tears, and have nobody judge is vital,” he continues. “To talk about the things that you’re vulnerable about or things that you’re insecure or worried about, your trauma, your pain, whatever that may be. We were able to provide that space, to cultivate that and really build a sense of closeness with the group. People just met each other for two and a half days but it seems like they’ve known each other for a long time. You can’t get that in too many places.”
He’s currently busy planning MSA’s activities for the rest of the year and has one major goal in mind. “My biggest thing is how do we ensure that our students don’t fall through the cracks academically while also participating in the social components of college life? How do we become more proactive in our approach, to ensure that our students get the appropriate resources they need to really hone in to their studies?”
Croom stays busy when he’s not working. A former NCAA Division III basketball player, he still loves to play and participates in a local men’s league. He loves reading, watching TV, or spending time outdoors at to the beach or park.
These days, he spends a lot of his free time working on the house he and his wife just purchased. “Coming from my impoverished background to being a homeowner has been amazing,” he says. “We’re having fun and making the space our own. Now every weekend is like, let’s do some home projects! I’m having a good time learning about that process.”
Mostly, though, it’s family that drives Croom. “I just love hanging out with my wife and son,” he says. “I’m also still really close with all my siblings. We have Zoom calls every other week to connect, talk smack about each other, and just have a good time. I love spending as much time as I can with my family.”
On campus, Croom is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work. “I’m doing a lot of observing and a lot of listening. I want to figure out how do we hold on to the traditional things that MSA does, while also pivoting and evolving into areas that will make our program more impactful in the long term? I’m super excited to get going!”