Love of Learning Requires Opportunity

By Kathryn James

Donovan Hicks (ΦBK, Wofford College, 2016) is only 22 but has already demonstrated a vested commitment to creating opportunity for students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. His personal work, though, focuses on expanding opportunity of black men and boys — men who, like himself, face hard statistical odds. In an interview with Opportunity Lives, Hicks framed the areas of policy he is interested in, for example educational opportunity, economic opportunity, opportunity for at-risk youth, the cost of education, as fundamentally tied to his identity: “I represent a wealth of what sociologists may deem as great inhibitors to success — low-income, black, high-school educated parents, etc. — my life has never been conveniently separated from the national discourse enough to not have a passion for public service. It’s intertwined.” Recognizing ways in which his experience was exceptional, however, has helped shape the questions he asks in policy work.

As an undergraduate at Wofford College, Hicks participated in the Bonner Scholars program, which requires students to complete at least 1,600 hours of community service during their collegiate career. This service experience helped motivate Hicks to enter public service, given his existing interest in public issues. 

As an undergraduate, some of Hicks’ volunteer work was with SC Legal Services, a non-profit legal aid firm for impoverished individuals in South Carolina who need civil (not criminal) representation. After attending the Public Policy and Leadership Conference at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2014 as a WHAT year, Hicks decided to build upon this service experience and his interest in creating opportunity to found Student to Student (S2S). S2S is a community initiative that recruits Wofford undergraduates to serve as mentors to high schoolers in the local area. These mentors coach high schoolers through the college application and selection process, providing insight and guidance to high schoolers who would be first-generation college students; Hicks described their target group as “middle-achieving students who sometimes get lost in the mix.” 

Hicks’ passion for creating opportunity for black male students led not only to a Truman Scholarship, but a summer fellowship at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law School, furthering this dedication to questions of opportunity and access. At the Center, which researches and advocates policies to alleviate poverty, Hicks researched long-term care provider rates and community-based service delivery. 

As his summer fellowship at the Georgetown Center showed, analyzing opportunity in intersectional terms is critical to Hicks’ conception of race and racial opportunity. Building on this understanding, Hicks has also served as an Opportunity Leader with Opportunity Nation, a bi-partisan coalition committed to expanding economic opportunities and mobility and reducing opportunity gaps. As an Opportunity Leader, Hicks utilizes his experience overcoming barriers to help Opportunity Nation develop relationships with national thought leaders, government agencies, and nonprofits, fighting for policies that effectively reduce opportunity gaps.

Hicks was recently selected as a Mitchell Scholar. Next fall, he will continue to explore the intersectional nature of opportunity through the Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict program at Trinity College, Dublin. 

Kathryn James is a senior at the University of Mississippi where she is studying public policy leadership, Southern studies, and economics. The University of Mississippi is home to the Beta of Mississippi Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.