Henry Hicks IV graduated from Oberlin in 2021 with a double major in comparative American studies and creative writing. His passions for grassroots organizing and advocacy have paid dividends: During his fourth year, Hicks was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship, which recognizes extraordinary dedication to public service. After graduating, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he works at Nonprofit Quarterly—a new position that follows an administrative stint at AmeriCorps.
You are a former chair of the Oberlin Student Senate. How did that experience cultivate your interest in leadership?
I had a really unique experience on the student senate. I stepped into the role of chair at the onset of the pandemic, when there was a huge surge in racial justice protests. Issues on campus were directly tied to problems in communities across the country. There was definitely a heightened sense of urgency. I had a great experience developing as a leader. Since student senators are voting members of general faculty, there’s a lot of opportunity for growth. During this time, our work became less about programming and more focused on policy on educational accessibility. How can we think more intentionally about those who identify as BIPOC? Issues became more nuanced, a lot deeper, and prompted thinking about national identity. These discussions gave me a unique perspective entering rooms after Oberlin. I could say that I had done work building bridges in Oberlin and was able to say that I organized students remotely.
You took a personal leave in fall 2019 to work as a field organizer for Kamala Harris in Iowa. How did this experience give you an understanding of grassroots organizing and campaigning?
If anyone is considering taking personal leave to work on a campaign, I absolutely recommend it. It was my first time in this type of environment, and it was like doing a study away program. I was organizing between Black Hawk County and Bremer County. I got to see different ways of organizing. I volunteered, phone-banked, and always asked, “How can I get people involved?” It was important to tailor messages to different community members. That primary cycle was unique because there were 20 different campaigns happening. I got to see how other campaigns were working. It was very interesting.
You cite many mentors at Oberlin, including entire departments—comparative American studies, Africana studies, creative writing—as well as President Carmen Twillie Ambar and professor Wendy Kozol. How did they influence your career?
The really big lesson I took away was that they encouraged me to move in different directions at one time. I had professors encourage me to work on Kamala Harris’ campaign. Creative writing professors encouraged me to write about my experiences. I received guidance from the Africana Studies Department on how to unpack my time in Iowa.
As a Truman Scholar, you had the opportunity to participate in the Truman-Albright Program after graduation. What was that like?
The Truman-Albright Program is for Truman Scholars who are living in Washington, D.C., but haven’t gone to grad school yet. I had a really great time meeting other Truman Scholars. I was able to connect with them and ask for advice. Similar to PAL [Oberlin’s Peer Advising Leaders], I was part of a cohort, and it was really nice to have that network.
What did your position as assistant to the board of directors at AmeriCorps entail?
This was an appointed role in the Biden-Harris administration, working with the board of directors to advance the mission of the administration. A board member at Oberlin referred me to this position. I was responsible for staffing people, putting together briefing materials, and communications. It’s really a mix of different tasks. I worked with people on the CEO’s team in order to integrate the board into the agency's board.
What are you on to now?
I found a new job at Nonprofit Quarterly. I work on content that will be in print and online. Nonprofit Quarterly has undergone a transition and is emphasizing community organizing more, and my role will focus on projects related to this transition.
What are your longer-term career goals?
I definitely see myself still organizing and writing. My honors thesis at Oberlin was about the Deep South and a political organizing tactic called “relational organizing.” It centered around building social movements and stronger change. In the future, I see myself having an impact at home in the South.
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