DUKE OF CHARITY
By Joshua Siegel
John "Duke" Nicklos is a believer in opportunities — and by giving
others the chance to learn and succeed, he is hoping to improve
the world by bringing books and libraries to children in Africa.
The senior marketing and entrepreneurial student was inspired after taking a trip to Ghana in the summer of 2010 with
the Department of African American Studies to bring pencils and
school supplies to children there.
"When we talked to the kids, they asked for two things,"
Nicklos said. "Those were toys and storybooks. I really thought
about my life and I couldn't imagine growing up without toys, and I
definitely couldn't imagine growing up without books and not being
able to just go get a book whenever I wanted to read one.
"When I got back to Houston, I met up with a young lady who
went on the trip with me, Alyssa Sloan, and we decided we were
going to start a non-profit organization," Nicklos said.
Nicklos had held positions with Bath and Body Works and
Coach as a visual branding manager for both and held several
other marketing positions for different companies, but realized that
it was not what he wanted to do.
"I'm an entrepreneur and I'm a social entrepreneur," Nicklos
said. "I couldn't and didn't desire to spend the rest of my life helping somebody else become a millionaire."
Nicklos and Sloan, a UH graduate, established their non-profit,
The New Black, and its first undertaking was the African Library
"Our goal is to connect all African Americans across the world
on two different levels," Nicklos said.
"We believe that everybody desires to learn something and that
everybody desires to express themselves," he said. "So if we can
create an avenue for people to learn and express themselves, then
they can start to appreciate their culture as well as other people's
Social welfare has not been the highest priority for Ghana, a
young country, who only became a Republic in 1960.
Since his initial visit, Nicklos has been networking and building relationships to help his organization flourish. He made inroads
with schools and chiefs of villages in Ghana during that first visit
and developed important relationships at home as well, almost
through chance in some instances.
Nicklos stumbled into a relationship with Ghana's Ministry of
Education through a co-worker at Calhoun Lofts, who had lived in
its capital, Accra, for three years.
"It's a bunch of outlier moments," Nicklos said. "I do work
hard, but it's not because I'm the hardest worker. It's not because
I know everybody. These circumstances, I've decided to do this at
a time when a lot of people are advocates for literacy in third world
The next challenge for Nicklos is using his current contacts
and developing new ones to get the nearly 20,000 books that
he has collected shipped across the Atlantic and distributed to
Nicklos graduated from Forest Brook High School and attended Prairie View A&M and was almost done with an engineering
degree, but lost his passion for the subject.
"I worked for Boeing building spaceships and satellites
and rockets and all of that type of stuff. I worked for Bechtel
Construction," Nicklos said. "I've worked in contracts, systems engineering and quality assurance. I've done it all and I didn't like any of it.
"I thought that the technology behind it was great, but it's
not something that I love doing. I like to touch people. I like to
see people. I like to talk to people and you don't really get that
Nicklos spends time during his summers working for a camp
put on through his church. He also does motivational speaking and is involved in the Upward Bound program through UH-
Downtown to prepare middle and high school students for college.
Nicklos will earn his Entrepreneurial degree in May 2012 and
his bachelor's in Marketing in December 2012.
Nicklos' goal for the next year is to open five new libraries in
Ghana and also Senegal, Kenya and Nigeria. Long term, he hopes
to digitize the libraries so that all students can have access to the
"It's nothing major," Nicklos said. "It's just our little bit to try to
help out the world."
Photo by Clarissa Arispe
 Inside the Pride