The representation of the predominately African American women enrolled at Sankofa Training and Wellness Institute was a grounding experience for the community. It was an inspirational, distinct, and honorable moment for Suprena Hickman, the face behind the vocational institution. All Hickman could only smile as students were amazed by the representation, soaking in the moment of black pride. The institution, located in the heart of Wilmington, opened in December 2022. The school is a defined moment of black excellence that exemplifies something extraordinary in Port City.
Hickman, who worked in the healthcare industry for 26 years, shared that Sankofa Training and Wellness Institute was three years in the making. Her vision is to establish a gateway to education opportunities, especially for minorities and low-income individuals who face challenges getting accepted into top nursing schools.
Hickman is also making waves in other ways. She co-founded and is the executive director of Girls Rocking in the South, L.L.C. She is also the C.E.O. of Chief Escape Officer of Suprena Hickman Enterprises, L.L.C., including Your Escape Coach, L.L.C., and Sweet Escapes by Suprena.
“I was a C.T.E. instructor for one of the area high schools. I had nearly 100 students in the class, and at least five of them were black or brown. It bothered my soul to see fewer minorities in the course. Without being accusatory, I inquired about how the students were picked. The teachers who picked the students were not only white but were siblings,” states Hickman.
She shared the epidemic of lack of knowledge of C.T.E. (Career and Technical Education) among the youth she comes across, from the at-risk youth she mentors to at least four students out of at least 200 summer camp youth who know about C.T.E.
“High school students must know what C.T.E. is by their first to second year. C.T.E. is a requirement in the state of North Carolina. C.T.E. has certain prerequisites that are required to get into the healthcare field. It’s too late if students haven’t taken C.T.E. courses by their junior or senior year. Any aspiring nursing students that haven’t taken the prerequisite courses are already behind,” she adds.
Hickman shared that the C.N.A. program is a good starting point for aspiring nursing professionals to determine if they want to pursue nursing in the long term. She used a problem as a gateway, making it less of a barrier for potential students to get accepted into her institution and advance in the healthcare workforce.
Sankofa Training and Wellness Institute was a journey that started in 2020. The pandemic era was challenging for Hickman, but it also brought out more greatness in her as she stretched into her purpose. “It was a tough period for me, starting the process for school and taking care of my mother at the same time,” she shared.
Her 2021 anthology, The Diaries of a Resilient Black Nurse: An Anthology of Struggles and Achievements of Black Nurses in America, put her into a nostalgic moment of life growing up in Charleston. She reflects on the moment of watching her mother, a busy working woman with nine children, maintain a household while caring for her brother, who battles renal failure.
“My brother was told he wouldn’t make it once he’s one but ends up living until 42. He was an expert and well-versed in his medication,” Hickman shared.
Those moments she observed from her mother and brother’s determination reflect her profession and how she cared for her patients during her career, making her into the person she is now.
Hickman’s school will bring more representation of African Americans to advance their careers in the industry. She believes more representation will bridge the trust gap for African Americans to receive proper healthcare.
She reflects on doctors from different cultures not having an in-depth understanding of the disparity patients face. “Doctors can’t easily label them as non-compliance for not taking their medication, causing their insurance to increase, without breaking down the core issue. Some of the patients are in survival mode while facing life challenges,” Hickman shared.
For instance, she counseled her patients at the Wilmington VA clinic and got to the core reasoning behind their resistance to medication. Some of the patients are in another mindset because of other issues, such as being at imminent risk of homelessness, being unable to afford healthy food (settling for cheap food), going through a divorce, and job loss.
In addition, Hickman does business coaching, private retreats, and workshops for nurse professionals and mentors. She faced similar struggles that other nursing professionals experienced in their careers, giving them a platform to express themselves.
With her mentoring program, she also empowers and encourages other black nurses in their career journeys. Hickman helps her mentors with self-esteem building, self-care practices, emotional wellness healing, forgiveness, and forward movement for growth.
She challenges her mentors to be better and do better. “You can’t do God’s works, holding in unforgiveness. “You’re intoxicating people when you’re ministering to people through unforgiveness,” she shared.
Her determination to fulfill her purpose keeps Hickman going. “I could’ve quit, but purpose keeps me going. The temptation is so great. I earned a lot of money working as a traveling nurse for a decade. I could’ve been first class, traveling around the world, or staying in Bahi, but I’m here to do God’s purpose,” she shared.
She believes God calls us to be different. Hickman is the gleam of the “GREAT BLACK HOPE” needed in Wilmington. “I’m here to slay giants. I’m like the ant in the big boys’ club,” Hickman added.