Henry Hicks ’21 Receives Prestigious Truman Scholarship

April 24, 2020
Amanda Nagy
young black man sitting in a  circular "womb" chair.
Third-year Henry Hicks has been awarded the Truman Scholarship for graduate study in public service fields. Photo credit: Malcolm Brainerd ’21

Third-year Henry Hicks, a comparative American studies and creative writing double major, has been awarded the Truman Scholarship , the premier graduate fellowship in the United States for those pursuing careers as public service leaders. 

Hicks intends to enroll in a joint JD/Master of Public Policy program after he graduates from Oberlin. The Truman Scholarship offers up to $30,000 to apply toward graduate study in the United States or abroad in a variety of fields. In addition to financial assistance, the award brings recognition of outstanding potential as a leader in public service, greater access to highly competitive graduate institutions, and access to scholar programs such as Truman Scholars Leadership Week, a summer institute and various Truman Fellows programs. 

Hicks, who is from Nashville, Tennessee, serves as chair of Oberlin Student Senate.

“I’ve found the position to be equally fulfilling as it is challenging. As COVID-19 and the challenges facing higher education continue to impact the Oberlin community, I’ve really enjoyed the task of advocating for Oberlin students on the issues affecting them. I’m so lucky to work with other passionate and capable students on these issues, and am looking forward to continuing my work on the senate.”

Hicks spent the fall semester working as a field organizer for the Kamala Harris for the People campaign in Waterloo, Iowa. He says the experience was formative, “as the area I worked in was a predominantly black, low-income area within one of the most segregated cities in the country. Seeing systemic, racialized barriers to voter participation in action highlighted the need for community strength and proper representation. I found that much of the work I did there was about giving people the tools that they needed to be agents of change within their own communities.”

Hicks notes that while growing up in Nashville, the importance of public service was always emphasized in his home.

“My mother is a public school teacher who has always chosen to teach in underserved neighborhoods, and my father has worked to uplift overlooked racial communities in Nashville through museum and archival efforts. The importance of giving back to communities in need has always been stressed.”

During his time at Oberlin, Hicks has built up a resume of legislative internships. In summer 2018, he interned in the office of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), where he worked on a number of issues. “I was lucky enough to return to his staff, working as a staff assistant in his Nashville office this past January.”

In summer 2019, Hicks worked as a legislative intern in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s Washington, D.C. office. There, he shadowed two of Brown’s legislative correspondents, working directly with Ohioans on the ground. 

“While there, I was able to assist in addressing constituents’ concerns in the wake of the tragic Dayton shooting, in addition to aiding in the federal grants process, acquiring funding for Ohio-based nonprofits and municipal projects.”

Hicks says all of those experiences have exposed him to a variety of avenues through which public service can be exercised—whether they be in community nonprofits or in the halls of Congress. 

“The time I spent on Capitol Hill gave me access to necessary context for the issues I’ll be working with. I also developed connections with changemakers active at the local, state, and national level.” 

On campus, Hicks is a Peer Advising Leader and editor in chief of the Plum Creek Review, Oberlin’s oldest literary and arts magazine. He says he appreciates the encouragement and mentorship he has received from faculty across multiple disciplines, including Gina Perez, Caroline Jackson-Smith, Kazim Ali, and Wendy Kozol. 

“My professors at Oberlin have really taught me the value in pulling from my academic work to inform applied advocacy efforts,” he says. “It’s due to their support that I’ve been able to pursue the opportunities I’ve gone after.”

Hicks also expresses gratitude for being chosen to represent Oberlin and his home state of Tennessee as a 2020 Truman Scholar. “Truman has a long history of connecting like-minded young people, all passionate about public service, and I’m so excited to be a part of that community.” 

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