FAIRFIELD — When Reine De Ciel was a teenager, getting an education seemed impossible.
“I got kicked out of every school in Fairfield and almost got kicked out of Sem Yeto (continuation school), too,” she said. “I was a really bad kid.”
Back then her name was Regina Scott, and she had a violent streak. Now 44, she goes by De Ciel and has a doctorate degree.
Disciplinary problems plagued De Ciel when she was a teen and she landed expulsions at Mary Bird, Fairfield and Armijo high schools in the 1980s.
“I was super insecure,” she said. “People would start making fun, and I would just start fighting without even asking questions.”
Back at Armijo, De Ciel only had a freshman’s worth of credits going into her junior year and it appeared that she wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. After being expelled for a particularly serious fight, school officials didn’t even want her to go to Sem Yeto, De Ciel said.
“They just figured I was so bad that I wouldn’t do right there,” she said.
De Ciel faced a disciplinary hearing that could have ended her high school career had her mother not asked for help from the Rev. Claybon Lea Sr. of Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
“He was very, very interested in helping women who were raising children on their own,” De Ciel said of the late pastor.
Lea attended the hearing and was able to influence school officials to give her a chance, De Ciel said.
“And I really did want to go to school,” she said. “I knew inside of me that I had the ability to do it . . . I just felt like I didn’t belong.”
School officials designed a rigorous program that required De Ciel to attend classes at Sem Yeto during the day and the Fairfield-Suisun Adult School at night and in the summer.
“I was doing it,” she said. “I ended up graduating a year early,” she said.
At 16, De Ciel earned her high school diploma. It was 1985.
“I entered Solano Community College at 17,” she said.
De Ciel went on to claim several college degrees, starting in 2002 with a bachelor’s from Baker College in Michigan and eventually a Ph.D. from Minneapolis, Minn.-based Capella University in 2012.
A photo from 2006 shows De Ciel surrounded by her mother and foster mother after earning a Master of Business Administration at Baker College.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” De Ciel said.
For De Ciel, earning a Ph.D. wasn’t easy. While working on her dissertation in 2009, her mother died and she flunked out of school. Then her younger brother died unexpectedly that same year.
“That was very difficult for me, and I do believe that God got me through that,” she said.
In 2012, De Ciel finally got her doctorate in organizational leadership after completing a dissertation on some controversial people. Citing the careers of the Rev. Al Sharpton and Crips street gang founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams, De Ciel – who had to change her name for copyright reasons – studied how charismatic leaders heal themselves after they abuse their abilities.
“I’m a believer in the fact that you can redeem yourself – after you have problems, you can redeem yourself,” she said. “But the redemption has to come through service.”
De Ciel now works as a researcher for a San Rafael-based mental health and addiction center and is a domestic violence advocate, a certified mediator and community conciliator. Fluent in Spanish, she plans to start her professorship in the spring at the Tecnologico de Monterrey in Chihuahua, Mexico, unless she lands work in the United States. The Oakland resident is also working on a biography and strives to help others realize their potential through her namesake consulting service.
Vallejo native Tenina Stevens, 42, considers her cousin to be an educational mentor. A mother of two children, Stevens earned associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is working toward a Ph.D. She shares a story similar to De Ciel’s.
“We were living as people who were involved in mischief,” she said. In spite of challenges, they were still able to complete their education, she said.
Also known as Suga-T, Stevens gained notoriety in the hip-hop group The Click with her brother Earl Stevens, aka E-40. She now owns and operates B.L.E.N.G. Enterprise, which offers consulting services.
“I don’t think most people dealing with the hip-hop (industry) – most people don’t go after education,” she said. “I feel (De Ciel’s) influence encouraged me to go after my education, to complete my business and be an example to others.”
Also a motivational speaker, Stevens and De Ciel collaborate on helping at-risk youths and adults get degrees through leadership training and mentorship.
“In spite of what happened in your life . . . you can always add another element that can help you better yourself . . . educationally, spiritually, changing the type of friends that you have . . . there’s an opportunity to better yourself somewhere,” Stevens said.
De Ciel said earning a degree is possible for anyone who has the desire.
“I think that any kid that wants to go to school can go to school,” said De Ciel, adding that students at Sem Yeto are just as capable as those at other schools.
“They are at-risk kids, and a lot of kids don’t think they can do anything when they go to schools like that,” she said. “. . . There’s a little kid out there that could do something amazing.”
Reach Adrienne Harris at 427-6956 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aharrisdr.