Political Science Black History in the Making Award Recipients for 2020

March 2, 2020

Black History in the Making award recipients from the v.c.u. department of political science for 2020: Kelsie Rudd, Tarazha Jenkins, Michaela Friend, Riley Reynolds, Simon Okoth
Student recipients: Kelsie Rudd, left, Tarazha Jenkins, Michaela Friend, Riley Reynolds (not pictured: Fatima Toure) with POLI faculty awardee, Dr. Simon Okoth (center)

Five Political Science students and one faculty member were among those who received the annual Black History in the Making award at a ceremony on Monday, February 24, hosted by the Department of African American Studies. The honor recognizes students and faculty who have demonstrated excellence in academics, professionalism and/or community-oriented service activities.

The 2020 Political Science Black History in the Making recipients are:


Fatima Toure

Fatima is an exemplary student of strong character, firmly committed to her studies and active in the VCU community. Though only in her second year at VCU, she embraces anything that offers the opportunity for personal growth and broadening her exposure and experiences. She is active in student life, in large part through the OMSA program as well as the GLOBE, yet not at the expense of her studies. In this respect, she is a dedicated student who prioritizes academics at a time when it is all too easy to give in to peer pressure to enjoy the social experience enhanced by living away from home for the first time. She has maintained a high GPA and worked as a supplemental instructor for the department. As the award is about 'history in the making,' we believe she is deserving for her early accomplishments but also for what we can anticipate.

Riley Reynolds

Riley currently serves as the regional coordinator for Rise to Run, a grassroots organization dedicated to training young women to run for office. Despite being a first year VCU student, Riley’s leadership skills have already begun to blossom. In her role as regional coordinator, she has gained valuable experience leading a strategic planning project, organizing and leading chapter meetings and events, and attending national conferences as a representative of her regional organization. Also back home in Culpeper, she serves as the president of the nonprofit Culpeper Youth Council, where in that role she organizes and supervises youth events and acts as a liaison between the nonprofit body, and the organization’s governing board and partners. She also serves as a member of the leadership council for Shelters for Abused Families, Inc. Riley has a keen interest in studying women leaders. During her recent participation in VCU Political Science REAL class on campaigns, held in New Hampshire, Riley focused her attention on how women contribute to campaigns and on the women candidates running for president in the Democratic Party for 2020.

Tarazha “Tee” Jenkins

Tarazha became a local celebrity of sorts while in New Hampshire by speaking truth to power when she confronted N.H. Secy. of State Bill Gardner about his defense of the "First in the Nation" primary; specifically she questioned him on issues of representation and electoral access. Her passion compelled New Hampshire Public Radio Stranglehold co-host, Jack Rodolico, to invite her and a few other VCU students, to participate in an on-air episode, which has since led to her being contacted by NPR's "It's Been A Minute w/ Sam Sanders" for a potential upcoming interview. Kelsie Rudd also participated in the New Hampshire Public Radio Stranglehold interview, and has since engaged in an independent study that continues to question New Hampshire's "First in the Nation" status; as part of this independent study, she'll engage in scholar activism by drafting OpEds to two of New Hampshire's newspapers (Manchester Union Leader and Concord Monitor).

Michaela Friend

Michaela is a senior at VCU, double majoring in political science/civil rights concentration, and African American studies, and a minor in gender, sexuality and women's studies. Michaela’s strong belief in social action is clearly visible in her work with issue advocacy work and community programs both on and off campus. She is the current vice president of Amnesty International at VCU. In her home town of Hampton, Va., Michaela was actively involved with Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels. She intends to go to law school and study and practice human rights law, and also to work to promote better laws to protect at-risk senior citizens. She has excelled in all of her classes at VCU and will make an incredible impact wherever she lands.


Simon Okoth, Ph.D.

Simon Okoth, Ph.D., joined the Department of Political Science faculty as a term instructor in 2017, though he taught numerous courses as a part-time instructor for several years prior. Dr. Okoth treasures the classroom and expresses deep respect for the hard work his students do each and every day. His is a gentle, quiet and profoundly respectful approach to teaching. Dr. Okoth begins with the assumption that each student is uniquely whole and valuable; this makes him an extraordinary listener, and, as one of his many devoted students recently noted, “a special professor because he puts the ideas and information in front of the class and then steps back and encourages everyone to make up their own minds, to figure it out and decide what they actually think.”

Dr. Okoth’s teaching is driven by his indefatigable curiosity to know and understand the world and his profound respect for others. He models caring, patience, acceptance and dedication for his students and his colleagues each and every day. He is often the first one in his office in Founder’s Hall, and frequently one of the last to leave. His door remains steadfastly opening, inviting colleagues and students alike, in for a chat or a moment of good cheer.