D. Talib Aquil overcame a learning disability on the road to success in public service.
Florida A&M University (FAMU) alumnus D. Talib Aquil was sworn in as the Wayne Township (N.J.) business administrator on January 20, 2021.
The Newark, New Jersey, native’s rise to the municipal government’s top non-elected position marks his latest achievement in a journey of overcoming a learning disability.
Aquil took over as business administrator in the community of more than 55,000 people following an almost two-decade career with the City of Newark. In 2003, he was hired as an aide to a Newark city council member. He then rose through the ranks before serving four years as director of public works for Newark, the largest city in the state.
As the business administrator, Aquil’s primary role is to be a liaison between the administration and governing body, ensure the Township runs efficiently, and delivers quality services in a timely manner and within the budget.
“My goal is to be a difference maker and inspire my team to be difference makers. I want to be known for always giving maximum effort,” said Aquil, who had served in an acting capacity for six months. “I may disappoint someone because they do not agree with my idea or because they do not believe my position is right, but I will never disappoint in my presentation, my sincerity, or the energy I inject in anything I attach my name to. My legacy in public administration will be in every life I have touched.”
Aquil, who earned a master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers University-Newark in 2010, credits the leadership and staff of what is now the FAMU Center for Disability Access and Resources (CeDAR) for transforming the prospects of a student for whom academic success seemed unlikely. Early on, Aquil was diagnosed with a form of dyslexia. He had to read schoolwork three, four, and five times to grasp the material.
“I was about 11 years old before I really knew how to read. I didn’t really become a decent student until I got into college,” he said in an interview.
Aquil graduated last in his eighth-grade class. He attended three different high schools and took five years to graduate. But then, he had managed to get his GPA to 2.5.
Despite his struggles, Aquil possessed advantages most of his peers didn’t. He lived with both of his parents who were college educated. His mother graduated from Seton Hall University, his father Rutgers University. His parents knew about the FAMU Learning Development and Evaluation Center program for students with learning disabilities.
“There’s no way I would have made it to where I am right now without the Learning Center,” Aquil said. After his FAMU admission application was initially denied, he applied to the center’s two-week summer program where he proved he could thrive in college.
“That’s how I got in, and I flourished from there. I didn’t have much confidence in my academic abilities, but it was one of the things they helped with,” said Aquil, who credits then-director Sharon Wooten, Ph.D., and assistant director Annette Oliver of the Learning Development and Evaluation Center for their efforts.
“They stressed we are not dumb or stupid; we just learned differently; focus on your strengths. Whatever resources we needed, they made sure we got,” Aquil said of the staff’s approach.
“They taught us how to advocate for ourselves, the importance of having accountability partners, that you’re entitled to reasonable accommodations so that you can succeed, and it helped me tremendously in life,” said Aquil, who attended FAMU from 1995 to 2000. “If I could redo those five years, I would do it in a heartbeat. It was absolutely wonderful.”