John Lewis with Yohuru Williams
U.S. Rep. John Lewis with Dr. Yohuru Williams, director of the Racial Justice Initiative.

St. Thomas Establishes Scholarship in Memory of George Floyd and U.S. Rep. John Lewis

In an ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the University of St. Thomas recently established the Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship to support undergraduate students whose identities are underrepresented at the university or whose studies focus on racial and social justice.

The Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship, formerly known as the Racial Justice Scholarship, was conceived in honor of George Floyd and U.S. Rep. John Lewis by a small group of BIPOC staff who are also St. Thomas alumni.

“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.”

One $5,000 scholarship per year will be granted to the selected undergraduate student after being reviewed by the award committee. Applicants are to be in good academic standing and in the spring semester of their junior year. They must demonstrate academic prowess, serve as role models for their peers, and be involved on campus or in the community related to issues that promote racial equity and inclusion.

“The university believes that it is central to our DEI efforts that undergraduate students need to be recognized for their accomplishments and the legacy they have left on our campus and the impact they will have on society as alumni,” said Alex Hernandez-Siegel, director of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion Services (SDIS) in the Division of Student Affairs at St. Thomas. “We are grateful to the dedication of our alumni, faculty and staff who pursued the creation of this award shortly after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.”

Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. During Floyd's memorial service, universities were called upon to create a scholarship in his memory that will support efforts for a more just and equitable world. It’s a world that Lewis fought for as a civil rights leader, even before he led hundreds of marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, to protest the lack of voting rights for African Americans.

The words “good trouble” are often associated with Lewis, who represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 until his death in July 2020.

Lewis once said: “I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.” On another occasion, Lewis, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011, said: “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."

“Representative Lewis embodied the activism and leadership of our civil rights movement and challenged the nation to strengthen its struggle for racial and social justice for marginalized communities,” said Hernandez-Siegel.

Ryan Blake ’09

“Having the Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship will not only show that St. Thomas supports students in speaking up on the issue of race, but also supports the students spending their time to influence the student body in a way that hasn't been encouraged the same way in the past,” said CRM Director of Innovation and Technology Services (ITS) Ryan Blake ’09, who spearheaded the establishment of the scholarship in part because of his undergraduate experience at St. Thomas as a multiracial student, and the experiences BIPOC students he has interacted with while an employee. 

“BIPOC students have always worked to ensure their voices are heard, sometimes on deaf ears or a challenge in creating momentum,” he added. “We've needed a way to ‘pass the baton’ to have younger students take on the responsibility to be a voice and face when creating Good Trouble, as students only have four years to make an impact while balancing their academic and career goals.”

Blake said he knew he couldn't launch the scholarship by himself, so he engaged other staff members, who are also alumni, to help him drive the scholarship forward, working with institutional leadership.  

In addition to Blake, other individuals who made this scholarship possible include Brad Pulles ’08, associate dean of Dougherty Family College; Teron Buford ’10, past associate director of admissions at Dougherty Family College; Shanea Turner-Smith ’14, assistant director of Student Diversity and Inclusion Services; and Codi Soeun ’14, digital project manager in Marketing, Insights and Communications.

Shanea Turner-Smith ’14

“Students live out the St. Thomas mission by engaging in Good Trouble, and their contributions make it a more inclusive environment for the next class leaving a legacy of good trouble,” said Turner-Smith, who also was on the planning committee for the scholarship guidelines. “As St. Thomas strives to lead the way in being a top 10 Catholic institution with the value of DEI, changemaking and anti-racism at the core of its mission to advance the common good, it is important we recognize the ways in which students help St. Thomas advance this important work through scholarship (research), inclusive leadership, and advocacy.”

The scholarship selection committee seeks nominations from community members associated with the University of St. Thomas and who have worked closely with the nominees in either an academic or a community service setting. Third-year students may also self-nominate, along with the submission of a letter of recommendation from a staff or faculty member. Preference may be given to students who demonstrate financial need. Nominations are accepted March 1 to April 1, 2022, by emailing studentdiversity@stthomas.edu. More information is available online.

The university continues to accept donations to ensure the lasting legacy of this scholarship.

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