60 Years of Stories! Brian Barlay
“St. Louis Community College gave me my foundation. Professionally and personally – everything I’m working toward started at STLCC. My passion for collectively mobilizing immigrant folks started there. My leadership skills were honed at STLCC. To this day, my closest friends are people I met through St. Louis Community College.”
~Brian Barlay, entrepreneur, 2016 graduate, St. Louis Community College-Meramec
Brian Barlay is a young entrepreneur on a mission to make St. Louis a more inclusive place for young immigrants. Born in Sierra Leone, he moved with his mother to Jefferson City, Mo., as a teenager. After high school, Barlay was attracted to St. Louis for the opportunity to be around other young immigrants. He enrolled at St. Louis Community College at Meramec because of its renowned theater program. “I decided on STLCC because I wanted to pursue my dream of acting. However, once I got there, what I learned at STLCC changed my perspective on what I wanted to do in life.”
As a recent immigrant, the transition to college was not easy for Barlay. Lisa Wilkinson, who was his English as a Second Language and English professor, recounted: “Brian was a very dedicated student who faced numerous challenges. He supported himself through school by working a variety of jobs. At first, he had problems with speaking and working in a new language and learning a new culture. Despite his challenges, he was an above-average student and became a top leader on campus.”
Barlay’s experience navigating the challenges that immigrant students face inspired him to push for change. While he loved acting, he found a passion for serving immigrant communities on campus, and through an internship with the International Institute. He cites college professors as being instrumental in the journey, especially Wilkinson, who he describes as a mentor and “second mom.”
With a newfound sense of purpose, Barlay began to thrive in the classroom and as a student leader. He took on leadership roles in student government and with several campus organizations focused on improving the experiences of immigrant, Black and first-generation college students.
Wilkinson remembers his time at STLCC-Meramec fondly. “Brian was the man to know on campus and he knew everyone,” she said. “He served as president of the International Club at a time when membership was at an all-time high. He started a club that was all about Black empowerment. He planned multiple conferences that impacted hundreds of people on that campus and in the region.”
STLCC was a transformational launching point for Barlay. Since graduating with an associate degree, he has earned a bachelor's degree from Saint Louis University, and a master’s degree from Webster University. Barlay said his experience at STLCC was critical to his continued education, as well as the leadership roles he undertook at both universities.
In 2022, he launched Barlay Consulting, a business that specializes in helping foreign-born entrepreneurs thrive in St. Louis. He works with individuals, organizations and networks such as the St. Louis African Chamber of Commerce, and larger organizations interested in creating work environments that support young, foreign-born employees. In 2022, the St. Louis Business Journal featured Barlay’s consulting business and its impact on the St. Louis region.
“A big part of my role is helping a young foreign-born population assimilate into the St. Louis ecosystem, and also helping them understand American society,” Barlay said. “I help my clients understand how their culture either contrasts or complements American culture. Additionally, helping clients navigate the culture shock and the cultural barriers that they will go through.”
When contemplating STLCC’s 60th anniversary, he challenges the College to continue its commitment to providing educational opportunity and access for all people, in particular the region’s immigrant and refugee populations.
“I want to see STLCC become a better place for international students,” he said. “STLCC is many people’s first encounter with the St. Louis ecosystem. That is a big responsibility: To make sure people feel welcomed and are given the support they need to thrive. St. Louis needs international students to come to STLCC and stay in St. Louis and that starts with a wonderful experience at St. Louis Community College.”