When alumni Demon Brown and Rolanda Gabriel met in a course at UNC Charlotte in 1999, they discovered a mutual interest — the desire to give back to their community. Ongoing conversations planted the seeds for what would become a successful professional venture and asset to the University and its students more than a decade later.
Now the proprietors of Be Well Therapy, PLLC, a Charlotte-based professional counseling service, they contribute every day to the health and well-being of children, adults and families from all over the region.
Brown and Gabriel bring different perspectives to the practice.
“During my time on the track team, I realized that what separated me from my teammates was my great family support system, which guided me to make good decisions,” Gabriel says. “I’m driven to help people find their motivation and help them see the other side of the situation,” Gabriel notes.
Brown’s experience growing up in Baltimore bore little resemblance to his partner’s formative years. Basketball was his way out of a crime-ridden neighborhood.
Be Well is Born
After earning a master’s degree in counseling at Hampton University, Gabriel returned to Charlotte to establish a counseling practice. She met Kok-Mun Ng, UNC Charlotte associate professor of counseling, when she enrolled in advanced classes necessary for licensure in the field.
Not long after Gabriel set out to practice on her own, she reconnected with Brown, who had had been working in mental health services in Charlotte. One more conversation and the two became business partners.
– Demon Brown
Be Well Therapy, PLLC
They’ve since expanded the private practice to a group practice that serves children, young adults and families.
Ng joined the practice as a therapist, and a multi-faceted collaboration with the University has flourished since.
In fact, it didn’t take much effort for Ng to persuade Brown and Gabriel to provide a graduate assistantship to doctoral-level students at the University.
As a graduate student, Gabriel had to work full-time to provide for her living expenses and tuition, as well as meet all of the academic requirements.
“I am so grateful we are able to sponsor this assistantship because, as a student, I would have loved to have benefited from a similar opportunity where a portion of my tuition was paid for, while I also was gaining valuable experience.”
Brown and Gabriel also remain connected with the 49ers athletic department; Brown mentors UNC Charlotte basketball players, and athletes from the University complete community service requirements by tutoring Be Well clients.
“Athletics instilled in me to always set personal goals. We try to incorporate those types of goals into the counseling for the children,” Gabriel says.
When young clients achieve behavioral goals, a trip to see the 49ers play basketball might be a reward for their success. But Brown and Gabriel want to do more than reward their clients; they want to spark their clients’ imaginations and demystify higher education.
“I try to introduce our clients to a different life early and show them that school is fun, too. They don’t hear about college at home,” Brown says. “I want them to understand the importance of education.”