Elijah Gardner holds nothing back when it comes to the cornerstones that shaped who he is and all he is destined to be.

“Everybody in my classes knows that everything that comes out of my mouth has something to do with Newark or my grandma,” says Gardner (M.Ed. ’22, Sociology & Education).

And with good reason. Gardner’s destiny was somewhat foreshadowed by the triumphs of his grandmother, Newark hometown hero and activist Fredrica Bey, who founded a charter school to offer parents an alternative to the troubled Newark public education system.

“Other grandmothers bake cookies. My grandmother started school,” laughs Gardner, whose passion for education equity was cultivated at a young age.

Grandma Bey pushed Gardner and his brother to excel academically, instilling a lineage of social justice and equity in her grandsons by taking them on a pilgrimage to Haiti during their teen years.

“She wanted to expose us to the powerful history of resilience displayed by the Haitian people,” says Gardner.

Educated in a public school system under state control, Gardner maintained his allegiance to his hometown by remaining in New Jersey's oldest city to earn an undergraduate degree in mathematics on Rutgers University's Newark campus.

He departed Rutgers-Newark knowing that he “wanted to do something with education...I just wasn't sure what it would be.” His discovery of the TC Sociology & Education program narrowed the focus.

Gardner viewed the program as an avenue “to study everything that led to the downfall of education in Newark,” a city with a long-history of a troubled public school system that led to 25 years of state oversight and intervention.

“I thought I would come in and be granted answers to solve [Newark’s] problems,” Gardner says. “What TC instead gave me were the tools to conceptualize the problem so I can come up with the answers myself.”

“I learned how to use research to uncover the truth and verify accuracy with relevant data – something I think is of particular importance in a saturated social media age.”

A residence hall assistant at TC, Gardner also carved out time for a work-study position with the Edmund W. Gordon Institute for Urban & Minority Education.

His role in assisting in the launch of “Currents,” the first Gordon Institute podcast, and other projects did not go unnoticed: Gardner in the run-up to graduation accepted a job as the new program coordinator at the Gordon Institute.

Grandma Bey, suffice it to say, will heartily approve of her grandson’s trajectory moving forward:

The pursuit of a Ph.D. down the line before “taking everything I’ve learned at TC back home.”

To Newark.