Meet Our Scholars
Columbia University School of General Studies
Jonathan D. Lewis Point Scholar
Rickke Mananzala was born in Oakland, California and being from a military family, was raised in a number of different states. He attended high school in Maine and has lived in Brooklyn, New York for the past 9 years. When Rickke first arrived at college in 1997, the only thing he recalled looking forward to was being far away from his high school. After being kicked out of his home at the age of 16 for being queer, he had to quickly piece together a new adult life on his own with college as the top priority to gain the affirming educational environment and peer support he was longing for. Unfortunately, that is not what was awaiting him on campus where his educational experiences in college mirrored many of the same run-ins as high school: isolation, being a target for harassment as one the few students of color and out queer students and the constant fear of finances. These hardships led him to eventually withdraw from college shortly before graduating. After Rickke left school, he had a variety of jobs, often two at a time, while also making time to volunteer at organizations that worked on advocacy issues that were personally meaningful to him, such as LGBTQ youth rights and criminal justice reform. Rickke has been involved with a number of social justice organizations working on racial, economic, and gender justice issues for more than a decade. He most recently served as the Executive Director of FIERCE, an organization building the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color in New York City and nationally. Despite their strained relationship, his gravitation to social justice work is something Rickke attributes to his mother. He grew up watching her working long hours in a factory making tote bags, as a dishwasher and as a domestic worker. His mom would not consider herself an activist, but her natural inclination to speak out to stop the discrimination she faced is a quality that has guided Rickke in his work. As a result, he feels a profound sense of responsibility to actively work to address and change systems that depend on anyone's invisibility. Rickke plans to complete his undergraduate and graduate degrees in urban studies and public policy. He hopes to help strengthen organizing work in marginalized communities by providing research and advocacy campaign strategy support to grassroots organizations. Rickke and his older sister are both returning to school at the same time hoping to be the first people in their family to graduate from college.