Osimiri Sprowal, a Temple University College of Liberal Arts alum (CLA '20) whose life work is at the intersection of homeless rights activism, policy, and poetry has been named a 2022 Marshall Scholar. A Germantown, Philadelphia native, the Africology and African American Studies major will pursue a master's in Human Rights and Politics at the London School of Economics, as well as a master's in Applied Theatre: Art, Action, Change at the University of Warwick.
Sprowal sits among 40 peers to receive the 2022 Marshall Scholarship, including alum from the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Harvard Universities. Founded in honor of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the scholarship has awarded outstanding American students the opportunity to pursue two or three years of graduate study in the UK since 1953. Over 1,000 college seniors and recent alumni are nominated by their home university every year, making it one of the most prestigious scholarships for US students. Sprowal is Temple's fifth Marshall Scholar.
The Marshall Commission seeks student candidates with the potential to excel as scholars, leaders and contributors to improve UK-US understanding.
Sprowal's leadership on homeless rights, particularly for the disabled and LGBT+ communities, is extensive. After coming out as trans, Sprowal ran away from home. While homeless, Sprowal applied to Temple as a transfer student. They were homeless for three semesters while attending Temple University. These experiences were their inspiration to becoming an activist and are what led them to join the Valley Youth Pride Task Force, an organization of young people in Philadelphia with lived homelessness experience. Sprowal co-designed the first "host home" program in the city, where LGBT+ community members take in homeless youth. In 2019, they were appointed to the National Youth Forum on Homelessness (NYFH), the only national organizing body of young people with lived homelessness experience. Sprowal sits on the forum's policy committee and executive committee, and they co-facilitate its Arts Activism Branch of the Youth Action Society. Through NYFH, Sprowal has promoted and advocated the #HousingSavesLives campaign, a policy advocacy initiative to gather public response for the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to prevent changes to shelter policies that discriminate against LGBTQ-identifying individuals. More recently, Sprowal sits on the board of A Way Home America, and is helping to design the New Deal on homelessness policy agenda with their peers.
Through the art of the spoken word, Sprowal supports and advocates for the homeless, LGBT+ youth and disabled communities. Their poetry deals with disability, trans identity and self-transformation. In their decade of writing poetry, they have competed locally and internationally in poetry slams and have accrued several championships and awards including city wide youth champ of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM), Best Love Poem in 2018 at CUPSI and, individual champion of 2019 Feminine Empowerment Slam (FEMS). While still a student at Temple, Osimiri founded deadname.arts, in response to the dearth of trans-affirming spaces in the Philadelphia art scene. deadname.arts was the first trans and gender-expansive exclusive art collective in the city. Osimiri strives to create welcoming spaces that foster camaraderie and support among LGBT+ and homeless communities.
Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, Chair of the Department of Africology, describes Osimiri as, "brilliant, resolute, resilient, and wise," and sites Professors Nah Dove and Kimani Nehusi as critical to Osimiri's success. Dr. Kimani Nehusi, who mentored Sprowal for most of their Temple journey and through their research on precolonial social and grammatical gender constructions and their connection to the current diasporic languages. Sprowal presented this research at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London, as well as at Villanova and Cornell.
Sprowal aspires to continue their path as a performing artist and homeless rights advocate while studying in the U.K. By getting involed with organizations like African Rainbow Family. Sprowal will be able to share their experience working on U.S. homeless policy and creating support systems for vulnerable communities, while also learning about the pros and cons of the U.K.'s programs of direct cash benefits for housing and living expenses.
The path to their Marshall selection was not without obstacles. Weeks before the application deadline, Hurricane Ida struck. Osimiri was rescued from their grandmother's flooded home in Louisiana, displaced once again.
"One of Osimiri's amazing traits is their stubborn determination," says Dr. Barbara Gorka, Director of Fellowships Advising. "They had come so far with their application," Gorka reports, "Osi was not going to let Ida derail their Marshall dream."
Faced with intermittent internet access, Osimiri worked on poems and essays whenever they had the chance.
Sprowal's reflection on their Marshall selection is poignant.
It's important for people to understand that kids like me can win these types of scholarships. Kids who are poor, and from Philly, kids that don't have homes, who are Black, and trans, and have seizures in class sometimes. Kids who use canes can make magic happen. Kids with nowhere to go can do impossible things. That's what this is about. I'm glad scholarships like the Marshall, can see the beauty and dignity of the places and people I strive to represent.