Alumni Spotlight

Counseling Alumnus Finds Success as Mental Health Advocate

How a series of rejection letters led to a college success story

Napoleon Harrington, known by many as the “Courage Counselor,” played a key role in passing Bill 4325, which protects licensed professional counselors’ right to practice. (Photo Credit: James Silvestri)

icon of a calendarMarch 5, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Trevor Tyle

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For many, a college acceptance letter is the gateway to opportunity, but for two-time Oakland University graduate Napoleon Harrington, his success story started with rejection.

Harrington, a Flint native, had always planned on pursuing post-secondary education in Michigan, like many of his peers.

“That’s where everyone else applied and had been accepted,” he said. “It was only natural for me to follow the crowd and do what everyone else did.”

He was surprised, however, to receive a string of rejection letters from every Michigan-based university to which he applied.

“My hopes began to fade and the enthusiasm I once had for college was dashed after everyone I sent an application to basically told me a resounding ‘no,’” he said. “Everyone except for Oakland.”

When Harrington finally received a letter in the mail from OU, he was stunned to learn that he had again been denied regular admission. He was, however, given provisional admittance under a probationary period, an opportunity that he says changed his life.

Harrington decided to major in Human Resource Development (HRD) with a minor in labor relations, ultimately graduating in 2002 as a recipient of OU’s Human Relations Award. He was so satisfied with the education he received that he began pursuing a master’s degree in counseling with a community focus that same year, which he completed in 2004.

“The rigor built into my assignments encouraged me to challenge the existing standards in the field  so that I could develop my own original thoughts and theories, and in turn become an innovator in my careers,” he said. “Oakland truly provided a learning atmosphere that challenged me to stretch beyond restrictive schools of thought and learn the value of critical thinking and applying the things we learned.”

In 2008, Harrington — now known as the “Courage Counselor” — founded Ambassador Counseling and Resource Group, an organization devoted to providing mental health services for individuals, youth and families. He has since been inducted as a member of the fifth class of the “Elite 40 Under 40 of Oakland County” by then-County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and as president of the 28th class of Leadership Oakland, a nationally recognized leadership program. Additionally, he now serves as a member of the OU Graduate Study Advisory Council.

Harrington credits much of his professional success to the experiences he had in his time at OU, which included leadership roles in the Association of Black Students, Men of Umoja (Unity) and Apostolic Lighthouse Campus Ministries.

“While at Oakland, I was able to learn leadership skills and develop a greater sense of purpose by getting engaged in opportunities at the campus level and surrounding community,” he said. “I grew both personally and professionally by leaps and bounds by getting involved in a variety of programming dedicated to improving race relations and multicultural understanding.”

In 2016, Harrington was appointed president of the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association (MMHCA), a role he held for four years. In that position, he played a vital role in passing a historic piece of legislation that enabled licensed professional counselors (LPCs) to continue their practice, which was threatened by a proposal from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). 

LARA’s proposed changes would have essentially limited counselors’ scope of practice by moving their ability to diagnose and treat mental illness into an educational category. Under Harrington’s leadership, the MMHCA moved to introduce House Bill 4325, which would “codify diagnosis and other elements within the scope of practice into law.”

“We realized that if LARA was able to make the rule changes before the bill was passed, our profession would be grossly restricted,” he said.

After a rigorous campaign to publicize the issue — including a petition that garnered over 54,000 signatures in less than a month — the bill received unanimous approval from the House of Representatives and the Senate, and was officially signed into law by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Oct. 29, 2019.

As far as Harrington is concerned, though, this is only the beginning of his story. Now residing in Auburn Hills with his wife Faith, his most recent role is that of father to their newborn twin daughters, Isabella and Imani. 

Additionally, Harrington is pursuing a doctorate in behavioral health, which he is expected to complete in January 2021. Now 41 years old, Harrington maintains that, without the support he received from OU in his undergraduate years, he would not be where he is today.

“Oakland University offered me an opportunity to prove that the investment they were making, by admitting me to the university on a conditional basis, would pay off in the long run,” he said. “It proved to be the best opportunity of my lifetime.”

For additional information on the counseling programs available at OU, visit

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