On Friday, Jan. 13, the University’s first Renée Crown Professors in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) were formally recognized. Heidi Hehnly, associate professor of biology, is the Renée Crown Honors Professor in the Sciences and Mathematics, and Karin…
Syracuse University Announces 2023 Unsung Heroes for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
The 38th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Planning Committee has announced the 2023 Unsung Hero Award winners: Nichole Henry, Candice Ogbu, Thomas J. Wilson, Oceanna Fair, Trinity Brumfield and Camille Ogden.
The Unsung Hero Award is given to community members, students, faculty and staff who have made a positive impact on the lives of others but are not widely recognized for their contributions. The awards were created to honor Dr. King’s vision of creating positive change in a troubled world.
The award winners will be recognized at the 38th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Additionally, the 2021 and 2022 Unsung Heroes will be recognized this year since they were unable to be applauded in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2023 celebration will be held on Sunday, Jan. 22, with dinner at 5 p.m. and the event at 7 p.m. featuring keynote speaker Rev. Phil Turner. Tickets for the celebration are available at mlk.syr.edu.
Read more about the 2023 Unsung Hero awardees below.
Nichole Henry (Syracuse University Staff)
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that building community requires “a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” This powerful proclamation reflects Nichole Henry’s 20-year impact at Syracuse University.
Henry has devoted her professional career to welcoming and recruiting students to Syracuse, which is evident through her work within the College of Law, admissions and in her current role as the director of admissions and recruitment in the College of Professional Studies.
Henry has helped hundreds of students gain access to higher education because of her persistence to learn more about supporting post-traditional students and empowering such students to continue their quest of lifelong learning. In addition to her work in admissions, Henry has devoted time, energy and her doctoral research to the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). She has balanced work and life responsibilities along with her advocacy efforts of supporting those from marginalized backgrounds both through academic studies and her everyday lived experiences.
For Henry, creating a welcoming environment does not focus solely on the process before students arrive on campus or begin virtual classes. Her commitment is evident in her volunteer work as a dialogue facilitator for InterFaith Works, a FullCircle Mentor, as well as being a lead instructor of First-Year Seminar.
Henry’s legacy of leadership extends outside of the classroom and beyond her office, as she currently serves as president and charter member of the Delta Alpha Gamma Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. Henry has demonstrated engagement within the community as she has worked with her sorority sisters to offer scholarships to local women that aspire to further their education and has expanded ways to engage in the Central New York region. She reflects the ideals of her sorority by engaging in “scholarship, service, sisterhood and finer womanhood,” in all that she does in the community and in her work to continue to uphold, lift up and empower all members of the community.
Candice Ogbu (Syracuse University Student)
Candice Ogbu ’23, a double major in neuroscience and psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has worked with different organizations within the Syracuse community to develop a positive lasting bond.
In response to racial injustices affecting Black, brown and Asian individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ogbu sought to work closely with numerous units and organizations to define and impact change in our society.
During her tenure as chair of the Student Association’s Diversity and Inclusion committee, Ogbu created multiple programs and hosted events, including a panel of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Syracuse professionals to visit with Syracuse University and Nottingham High School students about pushing beyond their perceived limitations and seeking bold opportunities.
She invited speakers like Marc Lamont Hill to discuss racial discrimination in modern society and what we can do as individuals to create positive change. Partnering with the sustainability committee of the Student Association, Ogbu implemented green days where students volunteered to clean Syracuse community parks and gardens. Doing community outreach led her to apply for two separate internships—working as a peer health advocate (PHA) at Planned Parenthood and as a COVID-19 impact analyst with the City of Syracuse.
As a PHA, Ogbu helped develop a mental health retreat hosted by Planned Parenthood. This three-day event involved workshops, mindfulness activities and lectures from mental health professionals. The program is now used as a model for other Syracuse organizations hosting mental health retreats. Additionally, during her time at Planned Parenthood, Ogbu helped implement a city-wide resource list, with each section focused on a category of need within the Syracuse community and lists of possible resources open to the public.
Ogbu is now planning to create a campus organization called PP Generation, focusing on student leaders looking to advocate for sexual, reproductive and gender rights. Her community outreach does not end at Planned Parenthood. She was a key figure during the COVID-19 pandemic in implementing a testing system for essential city workers. Like Dr. King, Candice thinks of what can be done and is not afraid to take the initiative to make her dreams a reality.
Thomas J. Wilson (Syracuse University Student)
Thomas Wilson, a student in InclusiveU through the Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education, embodies Dr. King’s legacy through his love and support for the Syracuse University community.
Wilson is a frequent visitor and friend of many areas across the University community. A senior double majoring in broadcast and digital journalism and political science, Wilson is a news anchor at Citrus TV where “he loves to deliver the news.” Through an internship with Orange Television Network, he is also executive producer and show creator of “Thomas on the Town,” a show where he goes “into the field” interviewing Syracuse University community members on a wide variety of topics.
Wilson’s ability to connect with people and share stories is a remarkable resource for the Syracuse University community. Thomas immerses himself into campus life through internships and his work at Schine Student Center. He often shows his support of and interest in the community by showing up. He cares enough to take the time to learn.
Wilson is highly involved with the Syracuse University Catholic Center. At Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday Masses in the Catholic community, both at Hendricks Chapel and at the Catholic Center’s St. Thomas More Chapel, he puts the books away and makes sure all is set for the next scheduled mass. After Thursday Mass at the Catholic Center, at their “Community Night Dinner,” Wilson’s engaging personality and kind, attentive presence is frequently sought out at whatever table he chooses to sit.
He is a person that individuals naturally gravitate toward because of his generous demeanor, his skill to be an active listener and the confidence he exudes. Wilson’s ability to connect with others through these traits, as well as the professional and educational skills he has developed during his time on campus, will make him a natural leader for our future.
Trinity Brumfield and Camille Ogden (Community Youth)
Trinity Brumfield and Camille Ogden represent a generation of young, Black women who embody the life and legacy of Dr. King through their vision, efforts and commitment to diversity, equality, inclusion and accessibility.
Brumfield and Ogden seek to be advocates for justice in their high school. Currently juniors at West Genesee High School, they attempt to pursue change with diligence and positivity.
Founding members and co-presidents of Umoja, a student-led group at West Genesee High School that was created to actively unite students of all races around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, Brumfield and Ogden believe they are beneficiaries of the legacies of previous generations of change-makers. They have been certified and trained through the Student Coalition on Race Equity, an initiative that accesses the talent and skills of students to eliminate racism in their community, starting in their own school
district. Over the course of four weeks, Brumfield and Ogden were provided in-depth training in three core topic areas: implicit bias, white privilege and Black history.
Both women were selected to serve on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council and also serve as members of the West Genesee Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council. They are committed to creating and maintaining change in their school and district, and believe it to be their responsibility to ensure that younger students understand the importance of advocacy for racial justice and equality. They perceive their efforts as legacy in action, as they have been privileged to speak to middle school students in their district about DEI and help grow chapters.
Brumfield and Ogden serve as members of the Restorative Council, which helps determine appropriate consequences when there is an incident at their school; co-chair the Justice, Equity and Diversity Inclusion group that develops ways to make progress; have formed and hosted lunch groups to meet with teachers and staff to have crucial conversations about their beliefs; helped to develop a film dealing with diversity that staff are required to view; and volunteered at church through working with special needs children in the youth ministry.
Oceanna Fair (Community Member)
Oceanna Fair is a Syracuse native, educator and activist who has amplified the issue of childhood lead poisoning in Onondaga County. During her childhood years, Fair’s brother was impacted by lead poisoning, and he suffered debilitating effects which severely compromised his quality of life. Fair has spoken often about her brother, and highlights his lifetime of dependent care directly related to lead poisoning.
In addition to her brother, Fair’s granddaughter would later receive test results for a high level of lead in her blood, which fueled Fair’s ongoing struggle to prevent and intervene on behalf of Syracuse’s most vulnerable community members—children. Her advocacy is to prevent lead poisoning for all, but especially for Black and brown children who are disproportionately affected and who more often than not live below the poverty line in historically red-lined neighborhoods. Her selfless work to bring awareness to the lead crisis in Syracuse has elevated understanding of the issue and was the impetus for the formation of the grassroots organization Families for Lead Freedom Now, which was founded in 2019 by a group of mothers seeking change. She currently serves as Southside branch leader.
Fair has worked at the local, state and federal level to advocate for stronger lead laws and policies that protect families and provide outreach. She has discussed childhood lead prevention at national forums and conferences. This vital advocacy work was instrumental in passing the City of Syracuse’s Lead Ordinance in 2020.
As a change agent, Fair has helped support many families struggling with childhood lead poisoning and provided resources to others for prevention. She has amplified this issue and has fostered partnerships with other grassroots organizations and across state and regional networks. With champions like her, the Syracuse community has witnessed an increase in more families becoming aware. Her vital work has supported those who have been most impacted by historic disinvestment and structural racism. Through her own family’s experience with generational lead poisoning, Fair made a longstanding commitment to eradicating this preventable public health problem.