‘Good Things are Happening In Camden’: New Jersey Graduate Using Viral Billboard Honoring Her Graduation to Inspire Predominantly Black and Brown Community
A New Jersey graduate is receiving the graduation gift that’s taken on a life of its own, a viral billboard that not only showcases the accomplishments of Kristine Smalls, Ph.D.; it’s also inspiring her entire community of mostly Black and brown people.
“I said, ‘Wow. I’m really up there; that’s pretty cool,” Smalls, 30, said upon seeing a billboard along Route 130 in Camden, New Jersey, that pays tribute to her earning a doctorate degree in psychology from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Smalls says she always knew she wanted to become a doctor of some kind growing up because she always enjoyed helping people. When she was five years old, she was captured on video declaring what she wanted to be when she grew up. “In Kindergarten at graduation, we had to go up in front of the stage and say what we wanted to be when we grow up and I said a doctor,” Smalls said.
When Smalls and her mom, Kendra Busbee, were discussing her upcoming graduation, which took place on July 29, Smalls casually brought up someone receiving their own billboard; little did she know, the wheels in her mom’s head started spinning.
“Kristine and I were riding, and she mentioned someone had a billboard done for me, and I’m like, a billboard?” Busbee said.
Busbee started calling around to research the cost of renting a billboard. She contacted a local bakery owner who put her in touch with a billboard company, and with the help of a referral discount, she snagged a billboard for $1,250 to rent for a month beginning on July 26. The billboard shows Smalls’ graduation photo alongside Jay Z’s with the message: “Let me reintroduce myself Dr. Kristine S. Smalls, Look what good came out of Camden.”
Busbee managed to pull off a surprise reveal by taking her daughter to a restaurant near the location of the billboard.
“My mom told me we were going to go out with a couple of her friends, grab a couple of drinks and food, and when we got there, we sat down and was waiting, and she went outside to see if her friends were out there or something, and she came back in after quite some time, and she was like, ‘Well, they’re not coming anymore so we’re just going to leave,’ so we walk out and she said, ‘I parked in a different spot because they were going to park over there,’ and when we walked out, I saw people that I knew, standing around in the parking lot,” Smalls said, recalling that moment.
The billboard immediately drew attention from motorists traveling Route 130 and beyond.
“We had people reach out to us from New Zealand, Atlanta. We’ve had people reach out to us from so many places; it’s worldwide,” Busbee said of the viral billboard.
Smalls says her viral graduation gift does more than lift her own spirits; it is lifting her hometown of Camden, New Jersey, which sits just east of Philadelphia across the Delaware River. The city has a population of 71,000, with most of its residents being Black and Hispanic. Black residents make up 42 percent and Hispanic residents make up 50 percent, according to the latest Census data. Thirty-three percent of its residents are facing poverty and just this year, Neighborhood Scout, an online database that ranks neighborhood analytics, places Camden in its top 100 cities for violent crime.
Smalls says her hometown has a reputation that also partially fueled Busbee’s idea. Smalls recalls a television program where one of the hosts did a segment on Camden. Smalls says, the focal point of that segment was, “Nothing good comes out of Camden.”
For Busbee, the saying stuck with her as well and she recalled an effort by the local school district to dispel the myth.
“I worked for the Camden City School District, and they had an award assembly for all of the children that went to all of the schools throughout the City of Camden, and their slogan on the T-shirts,” she said was, ” ‘Look what good came out of Camden, me.’ ”
Smalls hopes her billboard sends a positive message to her fellow residents and helps to change the perception of Camden.
“A lot of the time, positive things in Camden gets lost among all the negative things that happen.” The “larger message” with the billboard, she said, is “There are good things that are happening in Camden and come from Camden and I’m not the only one, I’m not the first and I’m not going to be the last,” Smalls said.
Smalls will embark on her post doctorate at Springfield Psychological, working on the REACH program for an extra year of supervision by a licensed psychologist. Smalls says she plans to one day open a resource center dedicated to Camden families to address a void in resources impacting families.
“There’s a lack of resources in Camden as you may know, so definitely creating a center for all people to come to provide for psychological services and provide a safe space,” Smalls said.