When Dr. Kristine Smalls received her Psy.D from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on July 29, her mother, Kendra Busbee, couldn’t have been more proud. She decided to celebrate her daughter by renting out a digital billboard near Camden, New Jersey to make sure everyone in the community knows what Smalls was able to accomplish.
“I am the proudest mom knowing that I have the most awesome daughter. I can’t even explain the feeling that I have right now. She has done everything that a mother could wish their child could do,” Busbee said. “I wish nothing but the best for her.”
She got the idea to rent a billboard from one of her friends who had done something similar. Busbee originally dismissed the notion, but she eventually came around.
“I got on the phone and I started making phone calls: ‘You know where I can get a billboard and who I can reach out to?'” Busbee said. “I reached out to someone that just opened up a bakery and she directed me to someone that she used for her billboard and they gave me an amazing price.”
She didn’t waste any time putting the project together.
“I said, ‘I already know what I want,'” she continued. “I’m up late at night and I’m like, drawing my vision in my little notebook and what I want it to say, and [I was] so excited.”
Busbee surprised her daughter with the billboard during a special gathering of friends and family. Smalls had no idea what was coming. The group gathered in the parking lot of a local bar for the unveiling.
“I said, ‘Oh I moved the car,’ and we’re walking to the car and she’s like, ‘OK, I don’t know what’s going on.’ And she sees everybody outside of their car standing there, waiting. So she’s thinking that I’m giving her a COVID party [for her graduation],” Busbee said. “I’m like, ‘The billboard!’ and she’s like, ‘Oh!’ … It was awesome.”
The billboard features a large image of Smalls wearing her graduation cap along with the text: “Let Me Re-Introduce Myself… Dr. Kristine S. Smalls — Dr. Smiles — Look what good came out of Camden!”
Smalls needed a minute to compose herself.
“She just stood there in shock,” Busbee continued. “So I hugged her. She hugged me back. And I said, ‘We did it, baby. You did it.’ … And then I played Jay-Z’s ‘let me reintroduce myself,'” she added.
In addition to being surrounded by friends and family, Busbee also felt the presence of her late mother Doretha Busbee.
“My mom passed away when Kristine was at Kean University at undergrad. And my mom was very, very attached to my children,” she said.
The billboard is about to get a lot of attention.
“From what I hear, it’s about 15,000 cars that drive by here Monday-Friday,” said Busbee.
She says she rented the billboard for $1,250, but the experience has been priceless.
It’s also about showing the people of Camdem the good that can come from this city.
“We once heard that nothing good comes out of the city of Camden, and we just wanted to let them know this is something good that comes out of the city of Camden,” added Busbee.
“The kids there don’t really know what’s outside of Camden. Seeing somebody on a billboard becoming a doctor, it is possible,” said Smalls.
The act of kindness even caught the eye of the city’s mayor.
“So many positive things going on in our city and this is another big positive,” said Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen.
Busbee said her daughter wanted to be a doctor ever since she was five years old.
Now 30, Smalls completed her master’s degree and then finished her five-year doctorate program this year, with a dissertation on “African American Women’s Perspectives on Mental Health.”
She will begin her career in medicine with a post-doctorate program with the Resilience, Empowerment, And Creating Hope (REACH) School Program, part of Springfield Psychological, a mental health practice based in Pennsylvania.
“My ultimate goal in life is to come back to Camden and create a resource center,” she says.