"Remember that all things are connected. All things have purpose," reads the Cherokee proverb. "Listen with your heart. Learn from your experiences, and always be open to new ones." Oklahoma finds its roots here, in the Native American context, and Oklahoma Baptist University finds similar connection. For example, Dr. James Ralph Scales, an OBU graduate of 1939 and the university's ninth president (1961 65), was Cherokee his paternal grandmother, a native of Indian Territory. In fact, the first Baptist church in Oklahoma, established in 1832 along the Arkansas River near Muskogee, had among its original seven members, a Creek Indian.
Recently, OBU has experienced a flourishing of Native American students through The Gates Millennium Scholars that offers, in part, full scholarships to Native Americans for undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate work. Currently, several OBU students are Gates Millennium Scholars including Gabriel Bell, Michael Bell, Lyndsey Morgan, Dora Pipkins, and Kacie Pratt. They each share a common story of Native American heritage, and they each understand the example their lives exhibit to that heritage. Here are their stories.
Kacie Pratt is Pawnee and Osage. "In Pawnee it isn't bad to be Native American," she says. "I didn't have much struggle about my identity, but many of my former high school classmates struggle with the direction they are going. Some of the students I graduated with are already challenged with alcoholism and drug addiction." Fortunately, Kacie's story has taken a different direction. For Kacie, that direction pointed toward college, and specifically OBU, where she and her father often came to watch basketball games. "I knew that as a family we could not afford it," she says. "My father was the pastor at Pawnee Indian Baptist Church for many years, and now serves a small Indian congregation in Hoopa, California."
Kacie learned about the Gates opportunity through her high school counselor. "I could not have come to OBU otherwise," she says. Now, she is majoring in Mathematics and plans to move on to graduate
school concentrating in Statistics. She isn't sure whether she'll pursue a career in government, in a corporation, or in a sports-related field, but she is motivated. "I want to make my family proud; I want to do good," she says. "Not many people in Pawnee can say they have a master's degree let alone a college degree." More than this, Kacie says that OBU has provided an "atmosphere" where she can foster healthy relationships with people and strengthen her Christian faith. Kacie hopes to some day move back to Pawnee. For now, she frequents the area to visit family and participate each July in the Tribe's exhibition of Native American dancing.
Lyndsey Morgan is Creek, Seminole, Cherokee. Growing up in Ada, she attended the 30-member First Indian Baptist Church in nearby Holdenville. "The label ‘Native American' is often used as an excuse," she says. "I want to serve as an example who inspires other Native Americans to do anything they want to do." Through mission trips to Mexico and Alaska working with children of very poor families, Lyndsey has realized even more the tremendous opportunity given to her. As a major in Spanish Education, she hopes to move into international business as a translator. "I feel like I am in the right place where I can be most effective," she says.
Lyndsey continues to work in her home church. This semester she is serving as the girl's youth group leader. "I hope the young people will benefit from my example and the healthy choices I made in high school to put me where I am today," she says.
Dora Pipkins is Choctaw. She is the first generation to attend college. Through the State Chorus Workshop, she came to OBU as a sophomore and again as a senior in high school. She remembers telling herself, "This is where I'm coming to school. I don't know how, but this is where." Growing up in Pocola, she graduated with just 55 other students. This afforded her opportunities to take up leadership positions. As an OBU sophomore, she is an officer in the Bisonettes, the women's choral group. Although music is an integral part of her life, Dora is concentrating her study around family psychology and hopes to pursue a career as a high school counselor.
Michael and Gabriel Bell are twin brothers and one-fourth Arapaho. They grew up between here and Guam. Their mother, an Oklahoman, and their father, a Guamanian, divorced when they were 12 years old. They spent their high school years in McLoud, where Michael boasts of "beating" his brother in academics and in sports. "We both came to Christian faith as high school freshmen," Michael says. "By going through the divorce," Gabe says, "God ministered to us through the Kickapoo Friends Center, a Quaker church near our home. We spent a lot of time there and began helping out in youth camp and traveling with several people from the church."
Gabe and Michael both play guitar, sing, and lead worship. "Our message to young people is not to give up," Gabe says. "We tell them to continue to better themselves and succeed where their parents may have failed." Their involvement in church worship has grown and they now lead worship each Sunday. As to career, Michael is thinking about structural engineering; Gabe is considering mathematics. "We are thankful to be minority," Michael says. "As a result we have a whole different perspective. Things have certainly not been handed to us. We have had to struggle and work hard. Young people should never just give in to what is expected of them; they should always shoot higher."
"Always remember that a smile is something sacred, to be shared," continues the Cherokee proverb. "Live each day as it comes." The exuberance of these students and the goals they pursue are apparent in their countenances. Their academic rigor that has allowed them to thrive in the OBU environment is a testimony to live each day with purpose because it adds to the one that follows. "It doesn't matter how much you're rewarded," reads the Gates website, "if you don't do anything with it." OBU actively finds ways like The Gates Millennium Scholars for students to have the opportunities afforded through private education. OBU recently hosted a workshop for students interested in The Gates Millennium Scholars. More than twenty students attended.
"The best and the brightest students shouldn't be denied access to higher education simply because they can't afford it," says Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. Bill and his wife, Melinda, formed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in January 2000, a foundation endowed with $24 billion. The initiative began in 1994 when Bill remembers asking, "Am I going to be a na