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MLK scholar on the front lines of community service

Tomilade “Tomi” Aigbokhan was born and raised in Nigeria. She came to the United States in 2012 to join her husband, Vitalese, who is a logistics specialist in the U.S. Navy.

Aigbokhan is the 2021 recipient of Tidewater Community College’s Martin Luther King Jr. student scholarship, which will be presented during a virtual ceremony on Feb. 26.

A nursing student, Aigbokhan’s passion for helping people started at a young age as she witnessed civil unrest and the blight of AIDS and HIV in her country.

After university in Nigeria, she volunteered full-time with a nonprofit group dedicated to helping men, women and children with HIV and AIDS, as well as orphans and those with disabilities. She was also a trainer for the National Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project, helping young people make good decisions about their personal practices.

Aigbokhan considered a career as a physician but chose nursing because of the hands-on care involved. She plans to earn her Associate of Science in Nursing and then continue for a master’s in public health.

“I have a sister who is a nurse and she has been my inspiration,” she said.

“I’ve enjoyed my studies at the community college because of the resources including the library, laboratories, simulators and even the faculty support,” Aigbokhan said. “Everything is spelled out in the syllabus, so if you manage your time and do the work, you can be successful.”

A woman of faith, Aigbokhan lives by a scripture found in the gospel of Matthew that says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

She continues her volunteer service and lives by the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She currently works with Peninsula Rescue Mission; Mercy Drops Dream Center in Portsmouth; The Community Feed at TCC in MacArthur Center; and in one of Sentara’s COVID vaccine clinics.

“I enjoy getting to know those we are serving, offering an ear and friendship, and even praying with them.”

Aigbokhan would like to ultimately work in public health, giving back to the community.

MLK scholarship recipient: “TCC literally saved my life.”

Jacquelyn Boykins grew up appreciating Martin Luther King Jr.

Today the 66-year-old Tidewater Community College student shares a bond with the legendary Civil Rights leader and reverend.

Boykins is the 2020 recipient of TCC’s Martin Luther King Jr., student scholarship, which will be presented at a ceremony presented by the Intercultural Learning Center at noon on Feb. 28 at the Portsmouth Campus Student Center.

Visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis where King was assassinated late last year moved Boykins. An unfinished cup of coffee on his nightstand inside the Lorraine Hotel and his parked vehicle out front made news footage she had watched and rewatched more personal.

“I’m no stranger to the struggle,” she said. “I lived in the era where we were not able to sit at the counter at Woolworth’s because of the color of our skin. I was one of three people who attended the seventh grade during the first years of integration. I lived through that era, but when I was at that museum, I became that era.”

Applying for the TCC scholarship was almost a calling for the human services student who offers this, “TCC literally saved my life.”

As a clerk for the Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Authority, Boykins witnessed firsthand how treatment of low-income residents with little or no education often left them frustrated. She had been in public housing herself and often felt on the other end of dispassionate treatment. It was a cycle she vowed to change through her own education.

When she applied to TCC, Boykins had been out of school for 50 years. She didn’t finish high school. Her grandparents raised her after she lost her mother at 17. She endured desperate times, surviving domestic violence and succumbing to a depression that led to chronic health problems, including diabetes.

She found assistance through the Open Door Project on the Norfolk Campus, and from here, Boykins thrived.

The federally-funded program helps students with academic performance while providing support services to keep them in school.

“I had never been to a live play; I had never been to a museum,” Boykins said. “TCC changed all that. My hunger for learning accelerated. What I love about TCC is that they’re there every step of the way to encourage you.”

Pleasantly surprised by her ability to make A’s in the classroom, Boykins is finishing up her associate degree in human services and she’d eventually like to transfer to Old Dominion University to work toward a bachelor’s in social work.

“I’d like to volunteer at facilities that don’t have funds to have a social worker,” she said.

Currently, Boykins is an advocate for Chesapeake Crossing, a senior community. She advises tenants of their rights and assists with any paperwork related to Social Security, social services, fuel assistance and voting.

The Chesapeake resident has three adult children, Lena Benn, Sid Boykins Jr. and Sidni Cooper and two grandchildren, John W. Benn III and Elaina Wilson.

She was accompanying Cooper, an author of historical romance whose pen name is Sidni B, to Memphis for a book signing when she visited the Civil Rights museum. She’ll never forget it.

“The somber atmosphere and reverence I felt for Dr. King while I was there – we clicked,” she said. “When I learned about this scholarship, I had no choice but to apply.

“I will use this money to better educate myself in helping people with their life situations.”

English professor awarded college’s MLK service award posthumously

Nita Wood loved books and writing and treated her English students at Tidewater Community College as family.

“She always had someone from TCC for me to meet whenever I came home,” said her son, Claudius, an attorney in Atlanta. “My mother was very, very loving and caring to her detriment. She’d overextend herself sometimes. That’s just how she was.”

Wood, who died on Sept. 3, 2019, is the recipient of TCC’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award. The English professor, who also taught African American literature, started teaching at TCC in 1999.

“Her legacy lives on through the many people she inspired,” said her colleague and good friend, April Campbell, also an English professor. “Her charismatic teaching methods made students feel comfortable and accepted, and many students have praised her for being available and approachable.”

Claudius Wood, who lost his father at 10, credits his mother for seeing him through his early years. He called her a disciplinarian who never raised her voice. Instead, she altered her inflection to take control of the situation, he said.

“When she said it, you understood it,” he said. “She had to guide us into manhood and adulthood. That’s super hard for a woman to do.”

Nita Wood was also a mother to sons Ernest Wood III and DeMarcus Wood and a daughter Keva Hayes. She had one granddaughter Chiyah Wood-Majors and a grandson, Claudius D. Wood II. Nita Wood was a Booker T. Washington graduate who matriculated at Norfolk State University.

Her lesson of treating people the way you want to be treated is reminiscent of many of King’s teachings.

“She would say if you mistreat people, you can’t go back and change it,” Claudius said.

Michelle Woodhouse, provost of the Portsmouth Campus where Wood taught, remembers her friend fondly. “Nita Wood truly lived and exemplified the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said.  “She believed and fought for equality not only for her children but for her students as well. When I think of Dr. King’s famous quote – ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,’ – I think of Nita, a mother of four who stressed to her children and the students she taught the importance of education and how vital character is in defining who they ultimately become. I have personally witnessed Nita’s passion as evidenced by her consistent backing of campus activities which aided in student retention and success efforts.”

The Chesapeake resident died of cardiac arrest on Labor Day. Claudius Wood, who recently became a father, said losing his mother is the hardest part of his life. He will accept the award on her behalf on Feb. 28 at a ceremony on the Portsmouth Campus. Hayes will also be in attendance.

“My mother lost her mother when she was 7,” he said. “She would always say you can’t sit down when you lose someone; you’ve got to keep moving. We’re trying to do the same thing.”

Honoring the life of King every day on the job at TCC

Thomas Chatman remembers a time when college was not in his future. Now Tidewater Community College’s coordinator for First Year Success is at work on a doctorate while making sure others understand the value of higher education.

Chatman is the recipient of TCC’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, given annually to honor the life achievements of King.

“Each of us has a duty to serve and not for our own needs, but for the greater good,” he said. “My mission in life is to help others live the best life possible.”

His life easily could have gone in a different direction. He was not college bound until he joined COYS, a leadership development program at Currituck County High School in North Carolina.

With the support of two mentors, Chatman made the grades and scored well on the SAT – and found friends for life.

Chatman, 46, now spends his days helping students discover their roads to success, including first-generation students like himself. He knows the transition to college can be difficult, so he works to make sure small bumps don’t become major obstacles for students.

“Mr. Chatman is very deserving of this recognition,” said Emanuel Chestnut, dean of student services on the Norfolk Campus. “A true servant leader, his character is unimpeachable, and his work ethic and compassion is unparalleled.”

Chatman coordinates student orientation, academic alert programs and student development course offerings for his campus. He also serves as the acting dean of student services on the Norfolk Campus when needed.

Recent accomplishments include spearheading mobile advising at TCC, which enables academic advisors to set up stations around campus and visit students on the go.

He also launched computer training workshops for new students, providing them with the necessary skills to be successful in school. He partnered with faculty, staff and Barnes & Noble representatives to collect supplies for new students including flash drives, notebooks, pens, paper and even backpacks.

Chatman is currently working on an initiative called the Power of 2, a mentoring program that matches students with professionals in their area of study.

A motivational speaker, Chatman delivers talks on leadership on TCC’s campuses and in area churches and high schools. The Moyock, N.C., resident is a member of Weeping Mary Church of Christ and active with his three teenage children, Brianna, Thomas and Brennan.

“I’m humbled by this award and see it as a mandate to continue my work,” Chatman said. “Also, my oldest is about to go to college and I want her to know the importance of doing more than what is required.”

Chatman holds a master’s in counseling from the University of Minnesota, a bachelor’s in elementary education and psychology from Elizabeth City State University and a certificate in public management from Virginia Commonwealth University. His doctorate will be in community care and counseling from Liberty University.

MLK Scholarship winner all about giving back to his campus and community

Johvanny Torres makes it his mission to help, whether getting a stranded motorist on the road, explaining a computer error message to a struggling student or coming to the rescue of an entire apartment building of displaced residents after a catastrophe.

The Tidewater Community College student isn’t looking for payment or even thanks. He’s simply honoring the father he lost at the age of 13 by making the world around him a better place day by day.

Torres, 34, is the recipient of the college’s 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, which will be awarded on Feb. 23 at a half-day conference titled “TCC 360: A Dialogue on Black Life and Legacies.”

The former Marine dates his community service efforts back to his childhood in north Philadelphia when something as simple as picking up trash made an impact. At TCC, he took a semester off when residents at Wayfair Apartments in Virginia Beach had their leases terminated abruptly after Hurricane Matthew damage and ensuing asbestos removal.

Torres fought for tenant rights with city officials and connected as many residents as he could with resources to help them with moving, food and furniture.

More recently, he helped with an initiative on the Virginia Beach Campus. As president of Computers for Student Success, he was the inspiration behind the idea to provide single mothers and military moms with Chromebooks before the holidays.

The idea was born after Torres experienced the challenges of single parenthood firsthand, caring for his 2-year-old son, Kavon. The night before a pre-calculus test, Kavon was sick, something Torres hadn’t faced before.

“I wasn’t ready for it,” he admitted. “He wanted me to hold him all night. I was supposed to be studying and getting ready for a test.”

That’s when he realized how often single moms go it alone. On Dec. 16, Computers for Student Success handed out 55 Chromebooks in gift boxes.

Torres is working toward his Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology. He plans to transfer to Old Dominion University to pursue a degree in computer engineering after he graduates from TCC in spring 2019.

He is also active with TCC’s Veteran Mentoring Program and Student Government Association. Typically, though, most of Torres’ service is on the fly. In helping a student who had come by campus to pick up her refurbished computer, Torres walked her to her car, which didn’t start. He took a peek under the hood, drove to a nearby auto supply store to get the parts and fixed it himself.

Torres’ admiration for King dates back to his middle school days when he wrote an essay on the Civil Rights advocate.

“He had a way of using words to get people’s attention,” Torres said. “If he didn’t have your attention, he would show you. He was a man of action.”

The TCC scholarship recognizes a student who exemplifies the teachings and example of King.

When Torres receives his scholarship later this month, four of his nieces and two nephews will be in attendance. “Whenever something happens to me, a milestone, I want them to be there,” he said. “I want them to see all you can achieve.”

Finding a way to give back a way of life for Portsmouth’s dean of student services

Dana Singleton lives by a simple manta.

We can all get along, and we can all give back. Service to others isn’t reserved for the wealthy. If you don’t have money to give, you have time or knowledge.

The dean of student services at Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus doesn’t just talk the talk. She walks it, daily, in fact, connecting with students about their classes and concerns.

Fitting that the mother, grandmother and soon-to-be newlywed is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. College Distinguished Service Award.

Singleton 58, will be recognized at a Feb. 22 ceremony at the Portsmouth Campus Student Center. The Emporia native expects her parents, Alice and Eddie Moore, and brothers, Daryl and Kenneth, to be in attendance as well as her longtime soulmate, Stan Hathorn.

“I am so humbled and so honored,” said Singleton, who has been with the college since 2006, first as an adjunct instructor and later as a full-time administrator. Singleton said in addition to the admiration she holds for King, she is honored to join Portsmouth Provost Michelle Woodhouse and Norfolk interim Provost Emanuel Chestnut, both former winners of the TCC award.

Woodhouse and Singleton are longtime friends in addition to being professional colleagues. They met when Woodhouse was assistant principal at Hugo Owens Middle School, where Singleton taught business and technology.

Woodhouse compares their bond to that of Meredith and Cristina from “Gray’s Anatomy.”

“She is my person,” Woodhouse said. “She is so deserving of this award. She found her passion in the school system because the kids loved her.”

Singleton followed Woodhouse to Norfolk State, where the pair worked together for two years, and finally to TCC, where Singleton started as an adjunct instructor and later became the inaugural coordinator of First Year Success in Portsmouth. She started the summer bridge program there, which allows incoming freshmen to earn college credit and participate in orientation during the summer.

Singleton recently spearheaded “Dean’s Dynasty,” a mentorship program for female students at the Portsmouth Campus. The group meets Wednesday afternoons and tackles personal development issues, which include etiquette, health and wellness, healthy relationships and work-school balance.

“After talking to so many young ladies, I realized they needed something like that,” said Singleton, who also mentors high school students as a leader in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

Singleton earned her bachelor’s in business administration from Norfolk State and her master’s in education from Regent University.

Singleton will marry Hathorn on April 20 in Las Vegas. She has one daughter, Codie, and a grandson, Kingston, 2. She is expecting a granddaughter in early February.

“I’m at a good point in my life,” she said. “I like what I do; I love what I do. I’m just blessed.”