Tidewater Community College honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by presenting annual awards to those who embody his teachings and spirit.
The 2023 recipients are:
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award: Chuck Thomas — Fitness, recreation and special events coordinator at the Portsmouth Campus.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Award: Hakeem Folahan Akinleye, a TCC student working toward an Associate of Science in Science.
The two will be honored during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards event on Jan. 17 at 9 a.m. at the Portsmouth Campus Student Center. The event theme is “It Starts with Me: Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems” and the guest speaker is Dr. Kelvin E. Turner, pastor of the historic Zion Baptist Church in Portsmouth and a member of TCC’s MLK steering committee.
Register for the event here.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award
Chuck Thomas has a gift for inspiring students. He is the fitness, recreation and special events coordinator at the Portsmouth Campus Student Center. He is also the unofficial cheerleader for anyone who comes through the doors.
Thomas grew up learning the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his mom. “She did her best raising me and my seven sisters on her own,” Thomas said. “Mom didn’t have much money, but she taught us important lessons for life.”
As TCC’s 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award honoree, Thomas has dedicated his life to service.
“Growing up in Georgia, mom would have us listen to Dr. King and then give a report on what we learned. The things I heard were non-violence, peace, love, respect, dignity and equality,” Thomas said. “As I got older, I realized what those words meant and that’s how I treat anyone walking through our doors – with dignity, respect, customer service and getting them what they need.”
The reason he gives back to the community is that he remembers when he was on the receiving end of people’s kindness. “My teachers and mentors were my guides because I didn’t have a father,” Thomas said. “Now I’m paying it forward and inspiring students to do their best in school and to be active with their physical fitness because that’s a key to reducing stress.”
Thomas was instrumental in establishing the Community Feed at TCC on the Portsmouth Campus. Thomas worked from the ground up preparing the space. “Launching the Community Feed was the proudest moment in my career,” he said. “There is such a need for food and TCC is on the front lines meeting urgent needs.”
Thomas also developed “Fit to Feed,” a program that combines fitness with the benefits of the Community Feed. He also participated at “Champions for Change,” a program for young men that provides resources, connections to jobs, and a lot of conversations about dignity and respect.
When he is not mentoring students, Thomas helps senior citizens with their fitness. He started a chair exercise program in his neighborhood and even helped one resident recover from a knee replacement.
“What my mom instilled in me all those years ago has paid off in my adult life. I’m humbled and honored by this award,” he said.
He added, “We are at a time when there is a lot of separation with people. Dr. King made sure we worked through differences and brought people back together. This message is more important now than ever. His work is paying off generations later.”
Thomas sends a shout-out to his mom, Mary Lue, and his wife, Keri Anne, for their part in his success. “When everything is good at home, you feel like you can conquer the world and I’m grateful for all they have done for me.”
Hakeem Folahan Akinleye
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Award
Hakeem Folahan Akinleye was inspired by the work of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. while growing up in Nigeria. He relocated to the United States with his parents in the fall of 2021 and started at Tidewater Community College the following spring.
“The ideals of Dr. King influenced me greatly. He was a great man who knew that if you want change you have to let your voice be heard,” Akinleye said. “He is one of the reasons I study hard and keep my grades up. I want to have an informed voice and help bring change where I can.”
MLK scholar Hakeem, 20, continues a long tradition of service to others. The award, now in its 21st year, is designed to recognize a student who best exemplifies Dr. King’s vision and philosophy in his call for unity and equality for all.
“This award is going to have a huge impact on my life. It instills an even greater desire to do more for the next person,” he said.
“One thing I learned from Dr. King is that there is always a chance to do better. All it takes is determination and hard work and togetherness and we can make things as right as we want them to be.”
Hakeem holds a 4.0 GPA and is working on an Associate of Science in Science.
Hakeem helps his classmates as a science and math tutor. He also serves on the Student Government Association and helps with Portsmouth Campus events.
Future plans for Hakeem include nursing school and a career dedicated to making a difference in the community.
“I have always been invested in the health sciences since I was little, and my interest only grows by the day. Also, considering how there are very few black male nurses in the country, I wish to try and change that,” Akinleye said. “I also feel like I’m representing my family by pursuing a career dedicated to helping people.”
Hakeem says his family is his biggest supporter. “My mom has always believed in me and pushed me. My brother also helps me, and my dad motivates me to do better,” Akinleye said. “My extended family supports me, too, and they are all very proud. I am humbled and honored by it all.”