Thirst for knowledge drives award-winning OU grad

Thirst for knowledge drives award-winning OU grad
JL Ricks
Johnny "JL" Ricks in the 910AM studio while a co-host of "On Point with Ralph Godbee."

When Oakland University graduate Johnny “JL” Ricks was a child, his favorite pastime was flipping through a set of Encyclopedias given to him by his maternal grandmother.


In short order, the Detroit native finished the complete set and was hungry for more.


Ricks’ thirst for knowledge stuck with him, and translated into writing and communication, his major at Oakland. He recently won first place in the Oakland University Writing Excellence Award from the university’s Department of Writing & Rhetoric for his analytical essay titled “The Gentrification of Detroit.”


Ricks, CAS `15, graduated from Oakland in December. During his time as a student, he wrote for The Oakland Post. Since graduating, Ricks has written for Huffington Post and a was briefly co-host of “On Point with Ralph Godbee,” on radio station WFDF 910AM, talking about issues of the day with the former Detroit police chief.


He is also a member of several different professional organizations – including Toastmasters International – and was recently accepted to Wayne State University to pursue a master’s degree in communication with a concentration in public relations.


The 35-year-old’s drive, however, is not only illustrated in his academic and literary accomplishments. It’s also obvious in his diverse background. Ricks is a U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard veteran.


While on active duty for the Air Force and later for the Air National Guard, Ricks was awarded more than 20 medals and ribbons for distinguished service in combat, combat support and humanitarian aid.


In 11 total years of service – he originally enlisted in 1999 – Ricks also earned two Air Force occupational badges and achieved the rank of Technical Sergeant.


Ricks’ military service instilled in him a mantra that he still lives out daily. The three core values of the Air Force – integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do – remain the principles he bases his work and personal life on, he said.


His award-winning article, “The Gentrification of Detroit,” was written for his Rhetoric 160 course, and won first place in the analytical essay category. It discusses the “urban renewal” that is happening in the city, and how groups of low-income African-American Detroiters are being negatively impacted by gentrification.


“I wanted to talk about what I perceived the problem to be, which was an atmosphere of exclusiveness as opposed to inclusiveness in Detroit, and the powers that be pushing poor, black and brown folks out of the city,” said Ricks. “I talked about a City Council meeting I went to, where council debated the implementation of a city wide curfew for the fireworks last year – it was a prime example of exclusiveness.”


In the professional realm, Ricks discusses and writes about racial issues, issues in the Detroit community, current events, geopolitics and more. His motivation is to “reach the community and spark a discourse about what is going on in our country, especially within the black community,” said Ricks, “and to get people to employ critical thought and question what’s going on around them.”


With an open horizon in front of him, Ricks said he is excited for his next challenge, graduate school. “My hope is to eventually obtain a Ph.D.”


His thirst for knowledge, it’s clear, hasn’t waned a bit.