Growing up in Nigeria, Uzoma Orchingwa ’14 witnessed poverty—lots of it. After moving to the U.S. in third grade, he began to understand how poverty can contribute to a life of crime. This realization has inspired him to find ways to make systemic changes that would break the cycle of incarceration. His vision led him to receive one of 62 highly selective 2013 Truman Scholarships from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.
Orchingwa plans to apply the scholarship, which will be as much as $30,000, to law school. “I feel like the law is basically the epicenter of everything,” he said. He would like to work for an organization that uses lawyers to litigate or lobby for change—to use the law to change the criminal justice system. Ultimately, he is considering a career in politics, which he says would give him a platform to speak directly to the American people in hopes of galvanizing their efforts toward economic and social equality and moral growth.
Above all, he wants to be a “change agent.”
At the heart of his quest for change is his belief that poverty is often at the root of incarceration, that U.S. prisons are violent and unnecessarily overcrowded, and the money that goes into incarceration could be used to combat one of the key things that drives people to crime—poverty. “We need to try to address the problems that lead to [crime],” he said.
“Today we have more than 2 million people in our prisons; for every dollar spent on education sixty cents is spent on prisons,” he wrote in his scholarship application. “One out of every 32 Americans is either on parole, probation, or in prison; and we have surpassed China, North Korea, and Russia with the highest incarceration rate in the world. These data reveal the seriousness of this problem.
“I hope to work in organizations like the ACLU to bring this dire reality to light and do all that is in my power to eradicate it.”
Orchingwa challenges the war on drugs and talks about innovative ways to repurpose prisons if they no longer housed nonviolent criminals.
In May Orchingwa will travel to Missouri for a week of leadership training. Beyond the financial award, Truman Scholars receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. This year, 629 college students applied for the award.
The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 as the federal memorial to the 33rd President of the United States. The foundation awards scholarships for college students to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or elsewhere in public service. The activities of the foundation are supported by a special trust fund in the U.S. Treasury.