“I was learning ways to be a better leader in the community ... and how to advance the cause of the common good."
Promise Prize Scholar Victor Sikeley described his time this summer at the Change Create Transform Foundation’s leadership summit in Washington, D.C., as a life-changing experience.
“I learned a lot of new things,” said Sikeley, a St. Thomas junior. “I was learning ways to be a better leader in the community. I was also learning how to advance the cause of the common good. It was great being around people who are passionate about the same things.”
The national nonprofit foundation’s annual event took place in late July, and was a celebration of the current cohort of Promise Prize Scholars, which includes two Opus College of Business undergrads – Sikeley and senior Mohamed Malim. The 12 scholars spent a jam-packed weekend working on leadership development, networking and community building, along with visiting historic sites, monuments and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Senior Jordan Pinnix, a 2016 Promise Prize Scholar, attended as a member of the foundation’s ambassador cabinet. Opus Dean Dr. Stefanie Ann Lenway and the university also were honored during the event with a special recognition for excellence in education.
Awarded annually since 2002 by the Change Create Transform Foundation, the Marie Nesbitt Promise Prize recognizes and rewards academic excellence and encourages leadership, scholarship, service and philanthropy. Promise Prize scholarships are given to students of African descent based on high academic achievement, outstanding character and exceptional promise. St. Thomas’ first scholar was Awele Eneanya in 2015.
“We usually choose one, but this year we divided the scholarship award between two remarkable young men because we thought they were both so outstanding,” said Georgia Fisher, assistant dean of undergraduate programs at Opus, about Sikeley and Malim.
Malim, who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and came to the United States in 1999, started Dream Refugee, a nonprofit with a mission to connect refugees to their broader communities and help them achieve their dreams. He was featured in the Newsroom earlier this year and recently landed on the cover of Edina magazine.
“My experience was absolutely spectacular – I met a lot of great people,” said Malim about the leadership summit. “Just knowing that different people from different communities came together and knowing we’re striving for the common good and have the same mission and vision as we go toward the future. I believe our youth is our future. If we invest in our youth, they’ll lead the next generation.
“I want to keep serving my community – that’s the biggest part for me,” he continued. “It’s my passion to help people."
Pinnix said he became a scholar and then an ambassador with the foundation thanks to his many leadership roles at St. Thomas, including being a Tommie Ambassador, resident assistant and orientation leader.
"I got involved with the community to push that agenda of not just being at St. Thomas, but being a part of here and being a part of the community,” Pinnix said.
Sikeley is extremely active with the YMCA, from organizing community activities to helping with fundraising initiatives. He wants to attend law school and eventually return to his native Liberia to help provide affordable education, clean water, shelter and food for people in need.
“Coming from Liberia and going through a time when there was a civil war, my childhood was taken away from me. You had to grow up really fast," he said.
“I have always loved being around kids – being an influence and role model for kids of all colors, shapes and forms,” he continued. “Whether it’s going to an elementary school and giving a speech to kids or joining a gym class or working with a group of preschoolers, my goal is to let kids understand that the people who are around you are meant to make you better as a person.”
Dr. Sheneeta White, Opus associate professor of operations and supply chain management, was also at the summit as a representative of the Change Create Transform Foundation’s faculty council. She said the event brings awareness to the accomplishments and the achievements of African-American youth.
“Any way we can recognize our students for their accomplishments is always a great thing,” White said.