Home » John Paul Usman.

John Paul Usman.

The kind of person that, I could tell from the very beginning, was more interested in giving than receiving. If even in this small way he was going to put others before himself, he did. And we have a lot of memories to thank him for as a result. Instead of being the center of photos, he wanted to be the man behind the camera taking photos for others. For every fellow that wanted to take a picture together, I remember John Paul’s smiling face, more than happy to spend his time serving others than moving about, preparing for a trip to the Cascades.

This past weekend, I had the great fortune of meeting and working with more than 40 students from Virginia Tech’s Language and Culture Institute. This was the continuation of a great relationship that I’ve formed with them over the years, being able to expose HESONWHEELS and its values, including the importance of inclusivity in social change from a micro-mindset, to their students that come from all over the world.

On Saturday, my presentation was geared towards the Mandela Washington Fellows and their theme this week of “Personal Ethics & Social Change.” I was given free reign and 2 hours with them and those 2 hours were absolutely wonderful. It’s one of my favorite presentations that I’ve ever given, and I’ll blog more about that later.

What I really want to share here is the impact that one man, who is no longer with us, left on me. John Paul’s home is Nigeria, and he was one of the first fellows to introduce himself to me. If anything stood out about the students in that room, it was his huge, contagious, and infectious smile. What especially stood out after the presentation, was how he maintained his position near the center of the group, offering to take pictures for those who wanted, with his iPad. When we went around and did introductions, I remember vividly him sharing his goals to bring a voice to youth in his home country.

John Paul’s passing only hours after we met on Saturday are but one example of the old saying “gone to soon.” I can only imagine the impact he would have had on those in his home country and what he could have contributed to this program this summer, and to his cohort-mates.

After the jump, you can read the letter that the LCI’s director sent out to those who may have been touched by John Paul in our community. May you rest easy, my new friend.

The Virginia Tech community is invited to attend a memorial gathering to celebrate the life of John Paul Usman, of Nigeria, who died June 25 after falling into the water on a hike to Cascade Falls. Usman, 23, was taking classes at the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute as a participant in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

The gathering will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 29 at the Alumni Assembly Hall at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. Those who are unable to attend the ceremony may watch it live online on the Virginia Tech YouTube channel.

Usman was a standout among the 1,000 fellows selected for this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship. He was passionate about education, peace building, and children’s rights, and he worked hard to amplify youth voices in sustainable development in Nigeria. Usman served as president of the Nigerian Federation of UNESCO Clubs and Centers and as co-coordinator of the Pan-African Youth Network on the Culture of Peace, Nigeria.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. It was launched to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. The fellowship is a program of the U.S. government and is supported in its implementation by IREX.

On behalf of Language and Culture Institute Director Don Back