Meet Akudo Ejelonu — Frankel-Adair Scholar 2017–18

Akudo Ejelonu at the ACLU of Pennsylvania offices on March 8, 2018 (credit: Ben Bowens)

How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?

Through the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?

I have always been familiar with the mission and work of ACLU since high school.

What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?

My family migrating to the United States from Nigeria seeking better opportunities, employment, and access to education. I grew up in inner-city Boston and had to fight against xenophobia, racial disparity, bullying, and socioeconomic inequality and even discrimination from other people of color. My parents worked two full time jobs and being the second born out of seven children, I was responsible for caring for my younger siblings and maintaining the household. After I came home from school, I would assist my siblings with their homework, make dinner and get them ready for school for the next day. I had to grow up really fast but know that I was destined to do extraordinary things with my life (big or small). These experiences were just part of the chapter in my life and not the conclusion.

What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBT community at this time?

Everything! But if I had to pick one, I would say that we need to shed more light on the treatment and lack of support for “undocumented” LGBT people, especially people of color. It is imperative that undocumented individuals be given the chance to step out of the shadows and away from the fears of deportation and continue the work they do every day in this nation to support themselves and their family. How they are treated by employers, family, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors matter. How are they treated by the legal system, healthcare system, law enforcement, social services and educational institutions all matters. Their physical, emotional and spiritual safety matter. Any comprehensive, successful immigration policy needs to expand opportunity for all rather than selectively applying our nation’s values.

Akudo and ACLUPA Executive Director, Reggie Shuford. (credit: Ben Bowens)

Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBT community?

Yes, I do. I am still building my professional aspirations and hope that wherever life takes me, it will allow me to have a direct and/or indirect impact on the community. I feel indebted to Bayard Rustin and other people who history tried to erase because of homophobia. I want the work that I do to matter and to help communities grow and prosper.

What other social issues motivate you?

Global health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), homelessness, poverty, environmentally induced migration of IDPs (internally displaced persons), and refugee rights.

What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?

This is the first time I am being recognized within the community-at-large. It is a different feeling. It bears a level of responsibility and gratitude. I stand on the shoulders of giants before me and hope that I can bear that same weight for those in my present and future. This is more than just an award, it is an affirmation, rite of passage and homecoming.

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The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.  Learn more about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship here!

Meet Matthew Armstead — 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar

The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

1. How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?

I heard about the scholarship initially from Internet searches for LGBTQ-specific scholarships. When I was contemplating applying for the Frankel-Adair, I saw a printed poster for the scholarship at someone’s home during an organizing meeting. That’s when I knew I definitely should apply.

2. What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?

My connection with the ACLU was very limited before applying for the scholarship. When I worked at the LGBT Center at Princeton University almost every year I would organize a program with a speaker from the ACLU. Since the ACLU was so pivotal in the fights for marriage equality and trans rights in New Jersey, the ACLU staff was able of offer a long-term perspective on current issues. Also, Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s national Executive Director, is a Princeton alum, so he came back to speak for a couple of programs and really helped me to understand the scope of the ACLU’s work.

3. What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?

My second semester of college, I was asked to become the co-president of the queer student group. This was a daunting honor: I was new to school, barely knew the community, and had come out to my family less than a year earlier. Yet I took a risk, and said yes. People helped me along the way, and I learned so much about being myself as leader and building a community.

A theme that now echoes throughout my life is that community will catch me when I take a risk to be more in alignment with my calling. When I took this step to pursue a Master’s degree in Ensemble Devised Performance at the University of the Arts, this theme again rang true, and the Frankel-Adair scholarship roots my education in the LGBTQ community.

ACLU-PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford and 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar Matthew Armstead.

4. What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBTQ community at this time?

A critical issue facing the LGBTQ community in the United States is how to keep pursuing change after marriage-equality funding no longer supports as many organizations. This reality has pushed organizations to get more creative, while providing visibility for many of the concerns within the community from immigration to heath care.

Globally we are seeing that trans rights are increasingly in the forefront. I appreciate how this re-centers gender in the community narrative. Much of the violence against LGBTQ people comes when our behavior moves outside gendered expectations. And this issue of gender-policing affects trans and cis-gender people. Organizing that pushes for our unique genders to be recognized will benefit us all as it would mean an end police harassment, enactment of pay and hiring equity, and the implementation of fair housing policies.

5. Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBTQ community?

Working with LGBTQ people has been a regular part of my career, and I expect that to continue. The slogan “We are everywhere” still rings true, and I am excited as more LGBTQ people bring our identities and issues explicitly into movements for change.

6. What other social issues motivate you?

I care passionately about people who are pursuing social change across the world. On my mind at the moment are environmental activists in the Philippines who are facing increased repression, Colombian activists with disabilities who just broke ground at the United Nations, and folks in the Movement for Black Lives who successfully unseated the Florida prosecutor who convicted Marissa Alexander and failed to convict George Zimmerman. My work training change-makers through Training for Change allows me to stay involved in this range of movements.

7. What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?

I hope to share the gratitude I feel with ACLU members at events throughout the year. The scholarship has the LGBTQ community in the front of my mind, so I’ll be looking for ways to use theater and my facilitation skills to support the LGBTQ community in the region.

Learn more about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship and find out how you can apply!

Life After Becoming a Frankel-Adair Scholar

By D’Angelo Cameron, 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship Winner

D'Angelo Cameron

D’Angelo Cameron

On June 15th, 2015, I received the wonderful news that I was chosen to be one of two recipients of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The scholarship, awarded to LGBTQ youth who are pursuing post-secondary education in the greater Philadelphia area, is highly competitive, and the financial assistance provided by the award allowed me to pay for my last semester without worry. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, being awarded this scholarship would be the start of my most active year as a young leader living in Philadelphia, and eventually New York City.

I first learned about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the HRC’s LGBTQ School Scholarship Database. This was not my first time hearing about the ACLU, and specifically the Pennsylvania affiliate. I was familiar with the ACLU of Pennsylvania being present at Philadelphia’s LGBTQ centered events, like Pride and Outfest. It was during these moments I would take stacks of the ACLU’s Know Your Rights wallet cards for LGBTQ youth and distribute them to my peers who were interested in knowing their rights as students.

Shortly after receiving the award, I became vice president of Philadelphia Black Pride, one of the few organizations that create space and opportunity for social and economic equity for the city’s Black LGBTQ community. In this role, I organized one of the most successful convenings of healthcare providers in the city of Philadelphia to discuss access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, a once-a-day pill that has been proven to be extremely effective in preventing HIV infection. Organizing this summit came from my dedication to addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect young Black LGBTQ young people.

My work for social change outside of the classroom did not stop there. While in the first few weeks of my final semester of senior year, I received another opportunity to serve on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative or YBGLI, a national group of young Black Gay, Bi-sexual, and Same Gender Loving (SGL) men who organize at the regional and federal level around issues that impact their peers such as HIV infection rates, HIV criminalization, homelessness, police violence, and others.

As a recipient of the Frankel-Adair scholarship I became more connected to the ACLU and therefore was alerted to opportunities that existed in the organization to become more involved. My invitation to the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s annual Bill Of Rights dinner was one such amazing opportunity that allowed me to connect with other young professionals in the region, as well as some nationally recognized personalities like New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow. Another was to be a Communications Assistant at the ACLU Foundation offices in New York City. Although it required moving from my home city of twenty-two years, I embraced the chance to work at the National office and learn from some of the best lawyers, communications professionals, and advocates for civil liberties.

It has been eight months since I moved to New York to work for the ACLU Foundation. Despite having to leave the board of Philadelphia Black Pride and other projects centered in Philadelphia, I’m quite confident that other young Black LGBTQ leaders will continue to drive the progressive and much needed work in the city. I’m still on the organizing committee of Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, and we are quite busy with planning new projects for 2017. I could not have been more proud of how much I have accomplished and I give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Frankel-Adair Scholarship committee at the ACLU of Pennsylvania for helping me achieve my academic and leadership goals.

“One of the Most Transformative Years of My Life”

By Michael Kokozos, 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship Winner

Michael Kokozos

Michael Kokozos

I have learned this past year that classroom walls are not magical barriers to the harsh, painful, and at times tragic realities taking place in our society particularly as a facilitator this summer through LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) at Princeton University. The student scholars remind me, however, that paralysis is not an option. We can ignore problems or choose to tackle them. If we attempt to tackle them, we have so much to learn from each other to raise awareness and foster critical reflection preparing the groundwork towards action.

Their unceasing energy and wisdom transport me to the annual ACLU Bill of Rights Dinner — a much-needed jolt in the life of a doctoral student who can easily forget modern-day heroes do exist tirelessly fighting on behalf of all of us for better tomorrows. I recall the Q&A with New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Charles M. Blow, and my awe of his willingness to even take on his political allies for their complicity in persisting inequalities causing undue harm especially to people of color. Truly, we must be willing to see far beyond the fog of fairness and with keen eyes.

These days I also live in the library writing my dissertation, reading and analyzing texts. I examine school textbooks in hopes that the representation of so many missing LGBTQ voices will finally find a heading. I peruse legislative documents in hopes that American policy will focus more on how we can include rather than exclude when it comes to national belonging. I reflect upon my journal entries looking forward to the life I imagined in my head as a boy still yet to come. History, I have learned, takes time to catch up to matters of the heart.

Thus, I see my pursuit of an Education, Culture, & Society degree enhanced by the Frankel-Adair scholarship as symbolic of a lifelong commitment to social justice. One of my favorite quotes is when the scientist and mathematician Archimedes would awe listeners by exclaiming: “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth.” Harnessing a seriousness of purpose and collaborating with others to move this world with all our might — this is what it means to me to be a part of something bigger than the self, and this is what it means to me to be a member of the ACLU.

This award has made a lot of things possible for me. For example, I will continue teaching my passions to educators across the country from elementary school students and teachers to college students and professors. I will continue to develop my research and leadership acumen to interrogate curriculum, assessing its effectiveness including and integrating diverse LGBTQ voices and perspectives, and securing the rights and liberties of my community and anyone else hurt by a system that can transcend its fears by committing to love. I will continue to bridge gaps between theory and practice by listening to and supporting the voices tied to a past that launched this movement in the first place.

So, thank you ACLU of Pennsylvania family. Thank you, Peggy Curchack, for your support and kindness. Thank you, Alli Harper, for your passionate dedication to the Young Leaders Outreach Team (YLOT). Thank you, Ben Weimer, for advocating for an ACLU presence at the University of Pennsylvania. And thank you to my co-scholar, D’Angelo Cameron, for your activism — past, present, and future. This year has been one of the most transformative years of my life. Your spirits and that of teaching and learning are imbued within this award and now within me.

Thank you.

‘Unexpectedly Wonderful’

By Amanda Hayes

Amanda Hayes

Amanda Hayes, 2014 Frankel-Adair Scholarship winner

There is the expected, and there is the unexpected. Buying expensive textbooks when I went back to school to pursue my teaching certification – expected. My wife’s post-surgical complications and subsequent disability – unexpected.

Of course I was thrilled to receive the inaugural Frankel-Adair Scholarship last year. Some of the award’s effects were expected: my parents kvelled (kvell, v.: to go on and on about how wonderful someone is, usually one’s child). I placed excited phone calls to thank my recommenders. I ceased advertising myself as a tutor, and while I continued to work with just a couple of students, this allowed me to focus on my studies and be helpful to my wife. I added the honor to my resume.

But it is the unexpected benefits of this scholarship which have had the greatest impact on me.

When I visited the ACLU offices in Philadelphia, I was given a tour and introduced to most of the staff. I can’t help but smile remembering how excited a few of them were to meet me. Little old me!

I was invited to attend the ACLU-PA’s Bill of Rights Dinner. I was a scholarship recipient rubbing elbows with big donors, feeling a little out of my league. But the folks I’d met on my office visit – two months previous – were thrilled to see me. I was greeted with hugs – hugs! – like an old friend. At some point, my name was announced, I saw my picture appear on the projection screen, and I stood to blush at a round of applause.

The night’s honorees blew me away. I saw awards presented to the law firms that had protected voter rights (Arnold & Porter, LLP) and secured PA marriage equality (Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller). I admired the courage of the student editorial board of Neshaminy High School, who faced school sanctions for refusing to print the word “Redskins,” and of the clients in the Whitewood v. Wolf case, which made my marriage (among others) legal in the Keystone State. I heard Ben Wizner’s brilliant address about technology and privacy. (I also ate some delicious food.)

In attendance at the 2014 Bill of Rights Dinner.

In attendance at the 2014 Bill of Rights Dinner.

The event took place on a school night, and though I had fieldwork to do the following morning, I stayed until the very end, soaking up every bit of the experience. As I wove through empty tables and chairs, I was stopped by a woman who congratulated me. Unbelievably, it was Deb Whitewood – yes, that Deb Whitewood, as in Whitewood v. Wolf. Talk about the unexpected! She called over her daughter Abbey and we chatted, and the whole time I was too star-struck to thank or congratulate The Deb Whitewood. (Deb and Susan Whitewood, if you’re reading this, thank you!!!)

When the ACLU-PA honored me with the Frankel-Adair Scholarship, suddenly I became not only a member of the ACLU family, but someone that others within this amazing group would be excited to meet. My immense pride to be associated with the ACLU – expected. The ACLU’s apparent pride to be associated with me – unexpectedly wonderful.

Apply for the 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship

Applications for the Frankel-Adair Scholarship for the 2015-16 school year will be accepted from February 1, 2015, until April 30, 2015. All application materials must be received by 5:00 p.m. on April 30, 2015. Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.