Graduating student wants to be a mentor for others like him

Nigel Spears

For Nigel Spears, serving as a mentor has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. 

He understands how important it is for young people to have positive role models in their lives, so he has volunteered as a mentor for the African American Male Initiative and Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  

“My dad was in the U.S. Army for 22 years and wasn’t really around when I was growing up,” he said. “He was gone for months and years at a time. I didn’t have any male figures that I felt comfortable looking up to.

I want to give back to those who are in the same situation as me. I understand that feeling like you have no male to live up to is hard, especially for African-American men. There are a lot of things you miss out on. If I can be the one that an African-American male wants to model themselves after, if I am able to influence them in any positive way, I want to be that person.”

Spears, a native of Fort Smith and a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, will graduate May 12 from UA Little Rock with a bachelor’s degree in applied communication.

After graduation, he plans to earn a master’s degree in applied communication from UA Little Rock and then attend seminary school. Spears plans to work as a motivational speaker, trainer, and consultant for mediation conflict, social media, conflict management, and customer service.

“I want to see everybody be successful in life,” he said. “I want to give back to my community.”

In 2017, Nigel Spears found himself at a point in life where nothing seemed to be going right.

“I wasn’t talking to my family. The relationship I was in was going south. I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life. I was in a horrible space,” he said.

He credits Dr. Gerald Driskill’s class with giving him a new lease on life.

“I took Dr. Driskill’s Human Communications Concepts class, and it saved my life,” he said. “Taking his class made me realize how much I needed to grow. It gave me a reality check. I learned the foundations and the principles of self-reflecting, being able to look at yourself and be honest with yourself, and how to fix the problems going forward. His class is what laid the foundation of how I operate my relationships today. I say it saved my life because without those core principles, I probably wouldn’t be here today.” 

Photo of Nigel Spears by Ben Krain.
Photo of Nigel Spears by Ben Krain.

Spears funneled his new life lessons into a motivational video series called SELFISH, which stands for Self, Expand, Language, Forgiveness, Invest, Strategy, and Hone.

“In the period between me dropping business finance as a major and finding applied communication, I had to reevaluate myself,” Spears said. “I had to figure out who I was. There are a lot of people, especially students, who live their lives for other people. You have to be able to know who you are, what you want to do, and how to accomplish that.”

Spears’ project caught the attention of his applied communication professors.

“Nigel won our departmental Making a Difference award in 2017 for his work in developing a video series focusing on showing teens and young adults how to incorporate positive communication into their relationships and their environment,” said Dr. April Chatham-Carpenter, chair of the Department of Applied Communication. “His messages impart practical advice about the impact of such things as word choice in dealing with conflicts.”

The catch phrase of Spears’ video series is “Salute Your Struggle.” He believes that every struggle in his life has helped him become the person he is today and wants to help others to embrace their struggles as well.

Spears started at UA Little Rock in the Summer Bridge Academy, a three-week residential program aimed at preparing incoming freshmen for college-level work by eliminating the need for them to take remedial math and English courses. He built good relationships with Jonathon Bobo and Kalan Horton. He also worked as an aide for the Green Dot Program and interned as a patient advocate at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He also credits his fraternity brothers in Alpha Phi Alpha for helping him become a leader and providing a support system.

Spears is also thankful to his “school mom,” Kristen McIntyre, Chatham-Carpenter, Mia Phillips, Melissa Johnston, and girlfriend, Marqueashia Thompson, for helping him through his UA Little Rock journey.

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