Successful siblings inspire next generation of St. John students

Published 4:34 am Saturday, May 20, 2023

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LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools laid a solid foundation for siblings Na’Kia Ricks and Dr. Ernest Ricks Jr. This week, they will return to their roots when they speak at graduation ceremonies for John L. Ory and East St. John High School with a mission to instill confidence and a sense of purpose within the next generation.

Today, Ernest is the director of graduate education in biomedical sciences – operations and assessment for Morehouse School of Medicine. He’s also the founder and owner of MTMV Sports Podcast Network, a business he created to help others follow their dreams. Years before he earned his PhD, he was considered a “problem child” with a lengthy record of suspensions and detentions. His mother was constantly called in to discuss his behavior, and he bounced around at least eight schools by the time he reached the eighth grade. After landing in St. John the Baptist Parish as a young teen, he had a difficult year at Garyville Magnet before finding a much-needed fresh start at East St. John.

Ernest’s ninth grade year started out like any other. He found himself in the principal’s office once again, but when the disciplinarian brought out his file, he realized something had changed.

“He brought out this manila folder, and it was empty. I told him, I know my file. When I saw it before, it was the size of a book. He told me you start over in high school,” Ernest recalled. “I wanted something different. I wanted my mom to be a proud mom and not someone who had to come to the school all of the time. I told him, please don’t put this behavior report in my file, and I promise you’ll never seen me again. The next time he saw me, he was giving me an award.”

Several teachers inspired Ernest to pursue a positive path, including Ms. Batiste, Ms. Gordon and Mr. Beadle. Ms. Donaldson was another inspiration, and Ernest did his best to live by the words of a poster that was hung in her classroom – “Triumph: You try, and let God have the -umph.”

One of Ernest’s biggest achievements in high school was winning the offensive lineman of the year award on the football team. It was a goal he spent all summer working toward as he set out to become a leader on the team and leave a meaningful legacy. After graduating from East St. John in 2000, Ernest obtained his bachelor’s degree at Grambling State University. He later earned a PhD from Morehouse School of Medicine and a post-doctorate degree from Emory University. His career has included working as a professor at Georgia Gwinnett College.

Ernest also became ordained as a minister in 2017 and travels between various churches to share the word of God. He and his family are familiar faces in the music industry, a tradition started by his father. While Ernest performs under the name Ric Sincere, his sister is known as Ayo Kia.

As he speaks to the 2023 graduates of East St. John High School, he hopes to inspire them to “run with purpose, run with passion, and run with people.”

“I want to make sure they don’t run aimlessly. Even though this is an accomplishment, there are other accomplishments down the line,” he said. “I believe strong mentorship matters. People can open gates for you that you might not be able to. I want them to leave the world better than they found it.”

Na’Kia Ricks was only a toddler when her family moved from New Orleans to St. John Parish. She has fond memories of attending John L. Ory Magnet and East St. John High School before graduating in 2011 and pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Louisiana State University. She’s worked in the tech industry for almost 10 years and currently serves as a customer service manager for Flexera Software.

Na’Kia is also a creative artist. Since releasing her first children’s book, “Sparta’s Adventure,” she has visited several local schools and nurseries including John L. Ory, St. Joan of Arc, Fifth Ward, Little Harvard and Little Starrs. To the children’s delight, she’ll sometimes bring along her dalmatian, Sparta, who serves as the inspiration behind the book. On May 27, she will host a book signing beginning at noon at Barnes & Noble Citi Place in Baton Rouge.

Na’Kia believes her upbringing in St. John Parish shaped her into the woman she is today. Teachers such as Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Keller, Ms. Cindy and Ms. Guillory were mother figures to her. Mrs. Lowery’s energy was contagious, Mr. Hill was level-headed and wise, and Mr. Guilbeaux was the most intellectual man she’d ever met. Miss. Batiste was strict but structured, and being in her class taught Na’Kia not to procrastinate. Mrs. Bear was never her teacher but still had a major influence, and Ms. Zeledon taught her to embrace creativity and never be afraid of going against the grain.

Some of Na’Kia’s proudest accomplishments in school were nine years of perfect attendance, winning student of the year twice, and being named salutatorian for the Class of 2011.

When Na’Kia speaks to John L. Ory’s graduates, she hopes to impart the wisdom she’s learned along the way to help students as they journey into high school.

“I want to give encouragement to the graduates as they enter this new phase in their lives. I would like to instill lessons of courage and feelings of self-confidence. I want them to always believe in themselves, always think positive of themselves and remain positive,” she said. “There is a lot of pressure to live up to unrealistic standards, but I want them to know that they are beautiful just the way they are. It’s okay to be smart and embrace the things that make you unique.”

Both Ernest and Na’Kia have remained actively involved in the community. Following Hurricane Ida, they raised $2,000 to give to local churches that were helping survivors in need.