At 22, Donovan Hicks is already making waves. A Truman Scholar, this year he was one of just 12 people named a George J. Mitchell Scholar, allowing him to travel to Ireland this fall on a full-scholarship for graduate study. He will be attending Trinity College Dublin for an M.Phil in Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict. After that, he told Opportunity Lives he intends to attend law school and gain experience in civil rights litigation.
“After that, there are no limits,” Hicks said. “I have been blessed enough to follow my passions, and I will do just that.”
Recently Hicks was also selected to interview Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at a gathering on Capitol Hill hosted by Opportunity Nation, a bi-partisan coalition committed to expanding economic opportunity, to discuss empowering at-risk youth to grow beyond existing obstacles.
“I greatly respect Senator Scott,” said Hicks, who is African-American. “He is a black man of humble beginnings who has made history by becoming the first African-American senator of South Carolina. I support his bipartisanship efforts…and believe that Senator Scott is committed to making common-sense laws.”
“By interviewing him,” Hicks added, “I learned that Senator Scott is more concerned with actual progress over his own popularity.”
Hicks is originally from South Carolina, growing up in Boiling Springs, though he said he considers Spartanburg home. That’s where he attended Wofford College — just 35 minutes from where he was reared. Hicks said he chose Wofford, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with Phi Beta Kappa honors, because he received a full scholarship via the Bonner Scholar and the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. During college, Hicks was selected to attend the annual Public Policy and Leadership Conference at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“We must remember that the strongest barrier for any disadvantaged student is the cost of an education, let alone a private education,” Hicks said. “I refused to be a financial burden on my parents for the sake of prestige, and to me, having the smallest about of debt possible should be a primary concern of any aspiring college student.
The Bonner Scholar program requires participants to commit at least 1,600 hours of community service throughout their college career. Working in the Spartanburg community is what sparked Hicks’ passion for public service. During college, he also served as student body vice president.
“I ran for student body office on the premise of why anyone else does: I believed that I could make a difference.” Hicks said.
Hicks says the experience was “a paradox” for him. “It gave me great privilege yet humility,” he explained. “I learned that when offered a seat of table of society’s privilege, we have a responsibility to represent all those who are intentionally shut out.”
As many African-American men are facing difficult scenarios today, Hicks said when he applied for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship he highlighted this problem. Hicks said he was able to break through the odds due to five factors: high parental expectations; parental wisdom to allow Hicks the ability to define specifically what success is for him; frequent lessons of work ethic and grit; strong community that believed in his talents and invested in them; and God’s grace and mercy.
“I have always been interested in politics and the study of government, both domestically and foreign,” Hicks said. “And, because 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.”
“In my opinion, the only skill that predicates a great public servant is the depth of their convictions,” he said. “Those that lack conviction, lack purpose.”
Hicks moved to the Washington, D.C. area shortly after graduating in May 2016 to work for the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. He now works at Deloitte as an analyst in the firm’s federal practice, the first from his college to do so.
“I love Deloitte,” he said. “It is a great company, full of individuals who are truly committed to everyone’s success, and the level of professional development that it injects into its newest hires is exceptional.
Hicks says he chose consulting because it seemed to be a great way to learn a host of knowledge quickly and become strong at problem-solving. “There are many brilliant people at the firm,” he said. “But the lesson I have learned is that among keys to success is to simply be a person that people want to work for and with. It goes further than all the intelligence in the world.”
To disaffected or disconnected youth, Hicks said the best advice he ever received was from his high school principal and was actually quite simple: be yourself.
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others.
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