Always a gifted student, Cassandra Bien-Aime says Bloomfield College was the springboard she needed to find her way in the world. The family-like community gave her the support to find her calling to a career in social services. Now the founder of her own nonprofit as well as a community leader and vice president and chair of Events and Marketing for the Bloomfield College Alumni Association (BCAA), she reflects on her journey and how Bloomfield helped pave the way to success.
For Bien-Aime, dreams of attending college started early. Having skipped the fifth grade, she went on to a pre-medical track program in seventh grade. Most of the studies focused on “SMART” (Science, Math and Related Topics) and culminated in her taking the MCAT in 11th grade. At the time, she planned on becoming a trauma surgeon. The pre-medical program covered the Hippocratic oath and Bien-Aime felt committed to helping those in need. What didn’t sit right with her, however, was that those without insurance would not be able to access the same level of care. She realized she had a deep yearning to help people in a larger capacity.
Attending Bloomfield College was a natural choice for her. Her brother was a student there, it was close to home, and the small, close-knit community was similar to that of her high school. On campus, Bien-Aime immediately sought to make connections and explore her passions, joining a campus dance organization called Versatile Entertainment. “Dance was always an important part of my life. It taught me to remain focused, whether in school or in any art form.” It was there she met Maurice Lyle, current president of the Bloomfield College Alumni Association, and then president of Versatile Entertainment. Her network and community continued to grow.
Academically, Bien-Aime was searching for a major that would allow her to serve others. After taking Sociology 101, she was hooked. Seeing people of color overrepresented in the criminal justice system, she wanted to understand why. Shortly after completing the class, she declared a major in Sociology and Criminal Justice. Exploring her passion, she performed a great deal of community service including working with at-risk youth, mentoring and volunteering at the food bank. It became clear this was the path for her.
Bien-Aime was gaining momentum toward graduation when disaster struck. In her senior year, a car accident left her unable to see out of one eye. Forced to wear an eye patch, she struggled to complete her schoolwork and ended up failing a class. Summoning her inner strength, she recalls saying, “You’re either going to do this for yourself, or you’re going to soak and sit it in.” This was a turning point. During the spring semester, she attended classes six days a week to graduate on schedule.
On top of her academic worries, medical bills piling up made it difficult to pay her tuition. “At Bloomfield, I learned how to be an advocate for myself and speak up for what I need. In life, you can’t expect someone to stand up for you, but once you do, you will receive the support you need.” She connected with the Financial Aid Department, which was able to provide the assistance she needed to finish out the year.
As Commencement drew near, Bien-Aime was both proud and relieved after all she had overcome to reach this goal. She looked forward to walking at the ceremony but recalls that she couldn’t afford the cap and gown. Stressed, she resigned to not walking at graduation, until at the last minute someone covered the expense for her. She was able to receive her diploma along with her classmates. “This is something we do today with the Bloomfield College Alumni Association – fund caps and gowns for students in need,” she notes proudly.
Since graduating, Bien-Aime has had a busy career giving back to the community. Initially a mental health social worker for the Department of Corrections, she served in halfway houses for both men and women. She recalls one client with whom she still keeps in touch. “She’s doing great now and even got her kids back. We worked hard to get her out of a depressive state. I’m proud of how far she has come.” Among her accomplishments, Bien-Aime also put in place an art program so the residents would have an outlet to express themselves. “It was a rewarding position,” she notes.
In her next professional role, Bien-Aime was the supervisor for juvenile justice in a high school serving at-risk youth in Newark. The school provided a job-readiness program that included dress for success and resume building. It also provided health and living resources, including an on-site daycare, to help the students focus on their education.
Seeking out new ways to serve, in 2016, Bien-Aime founded her own nonprofit organization, called Dancing Off the Endo, Inc. (DOTE), which uses dance as a catalyst to provide education and support for women living with endometriosis. She was diagnosed herself in her late twenties and recalls, “The pain was so bad, I had to be on and off morphine for three years. Over time, I changed my diet, worked out more, and it has gotten better. Mobility helps.”
She explains the organization’s role: “We come out and dance together and provide resources. I teach exercises that will minimize the pain.” The group holds events in dance studios throughout New Jersey and has traveled to California, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia to raise awareness and provide support. Some events are fundraisers and some are purely educational, she notes.
In recognition of her incredible work, in 2018, the Endometriosis Foundation of America honored Bien-Aime as the Endo Activist of the Year. She was the guest speaker at the Foundation’s first-ever march in New York City. “It was a great honor,” she recalls, but also remarked that she and her family were the only Black family in attendance. She talks about the issue in an article on the Foundation’s website, “People from my community don’t really know about endometriosis.” A big part of her work through DOTE seeks to address this.
In February 2023, she partnered with the Middlesex Region Black Nurses’ Association and was invited to speak as a panelist at the Robert Wood Johnson Wellness Center in Hamilton, NJ. Currently, Bien-Aime serves as health chair for 11 cities with the NAACP, including Bloomfield, the Oranges, Livingston, Belleville, Nutley, Maplewood, Millburn and Short Hills. There, she states, “We work to figure out health disparities in Black and Brown communities. We do a lot of educational sessions for the community featuring different health and fitness professionals.”
Bien-Aime recently attended the Veteran’s Day Parade promoting NAACP health events. Another initiative she is proud of took place in May 2023, when the NAACP Health Committee partnered with the Women’s Committee and Membership Committee to host a Menstrual Equity event. Together, they collected more than 3,000 menstrual products to donate to local high schools. “This was important for me, because I don’t think we should be paying for these items,” she noted, adding, “I personally was able to donate chemical-free products. We never know how these chemicals might be contributing to different conditions.”
Preparing the next generation of leaders, Bien-Aime states proudly she was able to bring a current Bloomfield student and a recent graduate with her to the NAACP State Conference this year. She hopes to inspire and empower them to become future advocates for their community.
Looking back on her journey, she remembers where she came from. “Bloomfield taught me that community is important to be successful and thrive.” She also learned that, “At Bloomfield, you saw that small communities can do large things.”
There is no doubt that Bien-Aime will continue to achieve great work in the community and as a member of the Bloomfield College Alumni Association (BCAA) leadership team.