Nkechukw Akpati dreams of making a career out of using his own voice. Drawn to the idea of hosting his own talk show, Akpati loves to entertain. But before getting his name on a marquee, he’s working hard to lift up the voices of others.
“When you come from a school where you’re in the minority, you try and act like the majority and fit in the best you can,” Akpati said. “I try to show them that it’s still OK to be your full and bold self.”
Akpati, a junior psychology major, spends much of his time at St. Thomas wandering the common rooms of Flynn Hall. A resident assistant, he works overtime to create a sense of community, especially for BIPOC students.
“You can tend to get blocked out at a school, when people don’t care about things that you care about,” Akpati said. “I believe just showing up and showing that minorities are there on campus is a really big part of the solution.”
Akpati’s initiative has proven a powerful force on the St. Thomas campus. And this spring, he’s being singled out for his work to create a more welcoming, inclusive community. Winner of the first annual Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship, Akpati will receive $5,000 to put toward tuition.
St. Thomas recently established the scholarship to support undergraduate students whose identities are underrepresented at the university or whose studies focus on racial and social justice. Conceived in honor of George Floyd and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Akpati hopes to carry on their legacy is his own way.
“Being part of a minority group, I’m trying to curate an atmosphere that can put other people in places that they want to be,” Akpati said.
A member of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA) and the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement (HOLA), Akpati is heavily involved on campus. But his goals go far beyond St. Thomas. After graduation he hopes to be a leader in his community, helping Black communities build churches, schools and gathering spaces.
“One of my big goals is to help in opening a bank – that’s one of the things Black communities often don’t have,” Akpati said. “I want to really put money back into communities that don’t have it.”
Using his time and energy for others is just one of the reasons his adviser, Dr. Monica Hartmann, professor and chair of the Economics Department, nominated Akpati.
“We are very fortunate to have Nkechukw at St. Thomas,” Hartmann said. “As a student of color, he gives other minority residents a space to feel at home as well as a role model for students of color and nonstudents of color.”
In the classroom, Hartmann believes Akpati is leading the way with his unique voice and desire to learn.
“He is an intellectually curious student who loves to learn and ask questions,” Hartmann said. “It is pure joy to have a student in the classroom with such curiosity. He will be a positive mentor to other students concerning valuing his education and thirst to learn more.”
Thankful to continue learning with a little less stress over how to pay for his education, Akpati is ready to pass on his good fortune to others.
“I’m grateful and glad, because going to school is expensive and every little thing helps,” Akpati said. “Especially when you have such a long-term goal … not being held down by student debt is something that is really helpful to not just me, but the future me helping others.”
Akpati is the first student to receive the inaugural Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship, but he won’t be the last. The scholarship was conceived by a small group of BIPOC staff shortly after the murder of George Floyd. At his memorial service, universities were challenged to create a scholarship that would help promote racial equity and inclusion.
“I am proud that several of our employees proactively brought this scholarship to life,” said President Julie Sullivan. “They truly care about our students’ work to advance the common good through racial and social justice work. The Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship embodies the spirit of our work at St. Thomas to take personal and collective action to dismantle inequities.”
The scholarship’s title is in reference and in honor of the late Lewis, who represented Georgia in the U.S. Congress from 1987-2020.
As Lewis said in 2018, "Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."
Other students nominated for this year’s scholarship included Carynn Vuong, Daphne Barrera, Lisan Hasnain, Evan Braaten, Cesar Osvaldo Mendez and Isaiah Allen.
The university continues to accept donations to ensure the lasting legacy of this scholarship.
The Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship winner was announced at the Student Diversity and Inclusion Services reception on May 6, 2022. Alongside the scholarship, Dr. Marlon Blake, Associate Dean of Students, received the Outstanding Commitment Award for staff, Sade Ologunde '22 received the Outstanding Commitment Award for students, and Dr. Nakeisha Lewis, Associate Dean and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ambassador, received the Outstanding Commitment Award for faculty.