When he was growing up in the Arkansas Delta, it might have been difficult to convince young DeKevious Wilson that he would one day be associated with a former president of the United States of America.
Through his pursuit of higher education and helping others, Wilson has achieved that distinction. He is one of 30 individuals selected as an Obama Foundation Scholar for the 2022-23 academic year.
A native of West Helena, Wilson earned a Master of Science degree in college student personnel from Arkansas Tech University in 2013. He selected ATU for graduate study, in part, because of an affinity for Russellville he developed spending summer days there with family members who live in the area.
“There was a group of us, and we were looking at different graduate programs knowing we wanted to go into higher education,” said Wilson. “We didn’t necessarily want to leave the state, but we wanted a good, competitive program. Arkansas Tech was it. Getting to know the professors, deans and building a tight-knit family with my cohort members helped a lot. It was a great experience.”
That experience included the acquisition of techniques that aided Wilson as he went through the early years of his career, first as a higher education professional and later as a counselor for the South Side of Chicago’s Youth Guidance’s Becoming A Man (BAM), a program that facilitates academic success and seeks to reduce violence among boys and young men of color.
“Those theories that I acquired at Arkansas Tech really help me personalize the trajectory in which a particular student might go,” said Wilson. “Do we need to take a couple of steps back? Do we need to look further into other possibilities? Or, if I don’t have the wherewithal, I know other individuals who can help in a particular area. That knowledge has helped me tremendously. I know for a fact it helped change the trajectory of the lives of students I’ve worked with.
“Knowing that I am able to put the student on a path that will allow them to find their own answer through their own decision-making…that’s rewarding,” continued Wilson. “A lot of them don’t realize they have autonomy and there are other options out there dealing with their social and emotional health.”
Now that he has moved into an upper leadership role as a regional manager for the BAM program, Wilson is helping develop the policies that assist the young men under his organization’s influence.
“You wouldn’t believe in 2022 we still deal with food deserts,” said Wilson. “There are still communities that don’t have viable grocery stores where people can shop and get fresh produce and meats. We’re dealing with communities that have been historically disenfranchised. Parents often work two-to-three jobs, so the oldest kid is the one who gets everyone else up, makes sure there’s breakfast if they can and makes sure the little brother, little sister or cousin gets to school. There are young people who are great students, but they have to come to school late because they have to make sure little brother and little sister get to school safely.”
Wilson cited access to reliable and quality health care as another common issue he sees among the young people he mentors.
“It’s a myriad of things these individuals are facing on a day-to-day basis,” said Wilson. “With the gun violence and gangs…sometimes that’s the only family they have, and they only feel like they can be someone through that structure. This program gives them the opportunity to learn a new way to respond. These young men are human. When you get to know them, they want better for themselves and their family. A lot of them don’t want to leave. They have to play a role in their families’ lives, but they want to be sustainable in that role.”
Wilson is furthering his education by pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago.
Information from the Obama Foundation states the Obama Scholars program seeks to “empower emerging leaders with a proven commitment to service with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and impactful upon their return home.”
For Wilson, home has dual meaning. There’s the home he has made in Chicago and the one back in Arkansas that always remains close to his heart.
“I’m a little boy from Helena-West Helena, Ark.,” said Wilson. “To, one, be at the University of Chicago, and then to be honored as an Obama Scholar…the emotions were everywhere. By the same token, I was made for this. It’s an accumulation of everything I’ve done from Arkansas Boys State to Arkansas Governor’s School to all the things I’ve done…everything has prepared me for this moment. One thing the Obama Foundation is going to get from me is Southern hospitality and the life experiences I bring because of that.
“I hope I can change and expand my view of how the world is constantly evolving and how we’re supposed to meet that mark,” continued Wilson. “I look forward to bringing that wealth of information back to my community here in Chicago as well as my home state of Arkansas. I will represent us with great dignity and Southern pride.”