Alex Peay ‘09 and Rising Up

Marie Sykes (

“If you want to free yourself, first you need to find who is it that ain’t free. Who is inside of you that is not free? And once you find out what’s inside of you that’s not free, you understand the point of acceptance.” Alex Peay ‘09 is a self-described “innovator,” “social entrepreneur,” and “movement builder” and these words of wisdom come from his latest TikTok, from his character Pop Pop. After speaking at a few Ursinus-sponsored entrepreneur events over the summer, Alex is back once again to share his story and thoughts on his current life and when he was a student.

To begin, he mentioned that he was “officially accepting that I’m older” and “closer to forty than twenty.” He immediately thought of an alum visitor his senior year who told him to make sure to “enjoy your college years” before you enter “reality.” Alex wanted to make sure to pass that wisdom along with a warning for the students “from the freshman with the water still behind their years… to the seniors ready to move on and still don’t know what they want to do after they graduate… you’ve got to enjoy your college life.” That’s how Alex came to be where he was today, after all.

Alex found his passion after originally planning on becoming an attorney to make “good money,” but “once [he] started Rising Sons” he found his passion: “supporting people of color.” His organizations have helped youth find what they want to do in their career and gain the access to what they need to succeed. One of the most influential moments for that after founding Rising Sons was his internship on Capitol Hill with a Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, during which he aided Casey with drafting the “Starting Early and Starting Right Act” to provide funding for Pennsylvania child centers, which came “from all the work [he did] with Rising Sons.” That cemented deciding against law school and pursuing community building work.

For everyone who still is in that phase where they do not know what they want to do but are finding a passion, “get as much experience with that.” Alex said he was “able to do what I could do because the school really believed in what I was doing” and he “[leveraged] the Ursinus resources” as much as he could (especially “because you pay so much in tuition you may as well leverage everything”). That’s the path to “finding out what your passion is.” He also brought up how companies like FaceBook began with just “two friends in college [who] got together and found out what their passions were” and there is “no difference” between them almost twenty years ago and today’s students. “Don’t get discouraged about the real world.”

When Rising Sons first began, all of their events were focused around community building. They held everything from a family cookout during Homecoming to the annual “Holiday Extravaganza” where they invited children from Pottstown to Lower Wismer, where they did winter activities like building gingerbread houses. Every Wednesday they would meet up in the Unity House, where the Commons stands today, to “discuss issues with ourselves and our communities” and to “support ourselves socially and academically.” They also got dressed up and ate together every Friday to “[bond] and fellowship over.” And reminiscing about this, he still was in disbelief that he was only nineteen and a sophomore at Ursinus when all of this began. But why and how did this start?

“You talk about your purpose and your why. I came from humble beginnings. My first night as a freshman at Ursinus I didn’t go out much because it was my first time having my own bed and I spent most of my time appreciating having a mattress to sleep on. When I think about what I went through and get to where I am… I was able to become resilient and overcome the challenges life threw at me and be who I am today.” And knowing that “there are plenty of young people who don’t have the [same opportunities]” is still what drives him today. As the eldest in his household, he also talked about how he never really knew what a big brother felt like and wanted to give young people that opportunity.

And all that work with Rising Sons turned into Ones Up, an organization in Philly dedicated to “[fighting] economic injustice through a career development program rooted in healing, wellness, and social justice,” as stated in their mission statement. Today’s goals he faces for the future of Ones Up, where is titled “Chief Troublemaker” is to raise money and expand sustainably. They’re running out of space and are even looking at “using shipping containers as [their] office building” in order for them to be sustainable but also have a “bigger space to impact more people” hopefully by winter 2023. Why Chief Troublemaker? Because he is a “troubleshooter” and “disrupts status quos.” “I like to challenge traditional systems, and when you stir things that are already in place in the norm, it gets people fully uncomfortable and it causes some trouble.”

But what can Ursinus students do? They can volunteer and work in social media, graphic design, marketing, and communications all virtually. If you would like to get involved, please reach out to

Beyond his work at Ones Up, Alex also connects and tries to provide a moment of connection with a grandparental figure through his TikTok, @poppopbrucejohnson. In his minute-long videos, Pop Pop sits down with the “grandbaby” for tea. Alex says he gets comment after comment talking about how Pop Pop “fills the void” especially for those without a relationship with their grandparents “even if it’s for a minute and thirty seconds, it brightens their day.”

To close the interview, Alex wanted to shed light on what he did not expect upon entering the field: losing men in the program to murder. Five of his members, including one of his best friends on the Ones Up team, have been lost to murder. “As a leader you don’t only have to be strong and help the young people you’re serving but only heal yourself and find time to grieve and take care of yourself. It’s been a journey to go through and handle and deal with but in spite of everything I have to find a way to grow and deal with everything I need to deal with.”

Website Exclusive: Alex also mentioned that he has received a flood of Ursinus support and messages lately, with the magazine just having been in his office the day before to take photos for the November issue, with what I promptly responded with “oh good, so this will beat them to print.” Stay tuned for that interview as well. “Something’s stirring up the pot a little bit. I don’t know what it is” but we are excited to find out Alex.