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At 17, Rita ran away from home and left school to escape a violent, mentally ill mother. The hazards of homelessness increased when she found herself seven months pregnant, retching with food poisoning from eating dumpster food and lying next to a trash compactor behind a Kroger store. She turned to prayer and her pleas were answered in the form of another homeless person who told her about the South Oakland Shelter in Royal Oak. After walking miles to the shelter, she had to tell the staff she was 18 so she could enter the program. “They were so wonderful to me,” she says. The social workers and church volunteers took her to a doctor, supplied maternity clothes and made sure she ate properly. Because the shelter had a 30-day time limit, Rita decided to return home with her baby and figure out a way to deal with her mother’s schizophrenia and create a better life for her son, Alaric.
Through adult education classes, she finished high school, just six months behind her class. To Rita, that better life meant college. She approached several colleges and universities with little to no encouragement, that is, until she came to Marygrove. Here she was treated respectfully, was offered financial aid and the support to believe in herself and her goals. She became an extraordinary student, managing a double major in Psychology and English with a Distinguished Student Award in each, a first at Marygrove. In her final semester, she carried 10 classes, another record at the college, and achieved in an A in every one. Her young son with his own schoolbag road the bus with her and quietly attended classes with her. She met her goal of graduating before he entered kindergarten. Throughout those years, she worked a low-paying night job to support her son, mother and herself. She tells her story not to elicit sympathy but to show others that that they, too, can overcome obstacles.
After graduation, Rita began her career in Human Resources at an executive recruiting firm. In less than a year, she developed ten new clients and attracted 200 candidates for positions posted. In the last decade, she has held recruitment positions of ever-increasing responsibility. Meanwhile, she earned a Master’s in Human Resource Management in 2002 by taking night classes, also at Marygrove. Her employer, Henry Ford Health System, selected Rita as a participant in the 2006 Leadership Academy Class to provide her with intensive developmental training, indicating she is on the “fast track.”
Dr. Karen Keljo Tracy, Associate Professor of Psychology, described her as, “One of those exceptional individuals who can intertwine art and science and bring both to bear in untangling an impossible knot or in initiating a creative strategy. She can sort out patterns in many aspects of her work, which lead her to effective ways of organizing and viewing an issue from a different perspective to solve it.”
Rita believes in reciprocation. She is a member of the Board of the South Oakland Shelter, where she resided as a client 15 years ago and where she shares her story with homeless people to give them hope. Her personal creed is “Don’t allow others to define your failures or your strengths. At the end of the day, you’ll walk in your own shoes and you need to have faith in your guiding principles.”
She is a member of several professional organizations including the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources, the Society for Human Resources Management, Inforum and the Human Resources Association of Greater Detroit.
Rita gives back in many ways to Marygrove and is Vice President of the Alumni Association Board. “Marygrove greatly contributed to the person that I have become. My education not only gave me knowledge, it also largely rebuilt my shattered self-esteem,” she says. Rita’s professional insights were invaluable as a member of the Presidential Search Committee. To assist students seeking employment, she presented a workshop on how to write dynamite cover letters.
Rita’s husband, Keenan D. Fields, and her son were among the many who wrote glowing tribute letters supporting her nomination as a Distinguished Alumna.