Tre’Quan Hayes holds a series of titles, including scholar, role model and ambassador.

The former Phoenix High School class of 2019 valedictorian is completing his last semester at Coppin State University, one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Having been awarded the title of Mister Coppin, Hayes leads the university’s Royal Court as an ambassador for the university and a representative for the student body. He is a hardworking, dedicated and giving individual with the goal of becoming a future educator.

As Hayes continues his mission to achieve his goals and support others, he often reflects on where the journey began. He recalls the team of individuals who rallied around him during high school and encouraged him to keep moving forward. With each achievement he has earned since then, he reminisces fondly on those who inspired him to pursue his dreams.

In return, Hayes plans to pay it forward so those following in his footsteps can receive the same support and resources he was offered. As college graduation approaches, Hayes looks at the future with excitement and determination.

Unlikely Encounters

Phoenix High School Principal Mark Hill remembers Hayes as the inquisitive and clever young man who, at the time, was just a first-year high school student at Kalamazoo Central High School. Upon seeing Hayes walking on the Westside of Kalamazoo during a school day, Hill stopped and offered him a ride. In the conversation that followed, Hayes mentioned struggling academically.

“Why don’t you come to my school,” Hill inquired of Hayes. He shared at the time that he believed Hayes would be a success and that Phoenix High School didn’t accept any less.

That conversation inspired Hayes to transfer from Kalamazoo Central to Phoenix where he excelled academically and socially. Hill became his mentor, whom he warmly called “Pops.”

Despite his phenomenal academics at Phoenix and graduating as valedictorian, Hill said Hayes’ grade point average did not reflect the growth, maturity and trajectory he had achieved at Phoenix. As a result, none of the state schools accepted him, leaving Hayes unable to utilize the Kalamazoo Promise. That’s when Hill suggested applying to HBCUs.

“They accepted me for who I am,” Hayes said. “They didn’t care about my SAT score or my GPA. They saw my human potential.”

- Tre'Quan Hayes, Mister Coppin at Coppin State University.

Hayes soon went from being turned down by all the state schools to having his pick of the eight HBCUs he applied to. While visiting Coppin State with Hill during spring break his senior year, Hayes felt a connection with the university and its students.

“I’ve learned that I work better in small environments,” Hayes said. “When I visited, it felt right. Everything they said just fit me.”

The Power of Partnership

Thanks in part to three years of funding support via the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s (KZCF) Clarence L. Remynse Scholarship, Hayes was able to pursue a degree in elementary education. The scholarship covered approximately half of his tuition.

“I really appreciate the committee at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation,” Hayes said. “They are very helpful, and they worked with me to make sure I have what I need to be successful in my education.”

Now in his final year at Coppin, Hayes describes himself as “a college student with a lot of titles.”

His titles include being elected Mister Coppin this year and Mister Junior last year. Along with serving as a member of the Student Senate, Hayes is also member of the Dean’s List and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

“Phoenix groomed me to be a leader, so why not pursue it,” Tre’Quan said.

As Mister Coppin, Tre’Quan serves as an ambassador for the university and a representative of the student body. He addresses audiences at official functions and develops programming and activities for his fellow students. The prestigious honor required Hayes to engage in a rigorous selection process followed by a student body vote.

Sharing Momentum

Despite Coppin being a nine-hour drive away from his hometown, Hayes still serves as a role model in Kalamazoo. He is the first person in his family to attend college and one of three Phoenix graduates per class to attend a four-year college or university.

Amid his own success, Hayes is always searching for opportunities to make individual and systemic improvements --- a trait that has guided him since working at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School during his senior year of high school. After witnessing a need for Black, male role models, Hayes endeavored to lead by example.

“I saw things and opportunities that the students were missing that I knew I could fill,” he said.

Since then, he has created a path of promise that supports and motivates those who are following in his footsteps.

Beyond an elementary school classroom, Hayes wants to show students alternative pathways to success, especially via an HBCU.

Tre'Quan Hayes attends an HBCU fair at Phoenix High School as a student representative for Coppin State University.

“I want to show people another way out,” he said. “I enjoy making an impact and a pathway for others that wasn’t there before. Attending an HBCU means a lot to me because of my culture, and it has opened me up in a lot of ways.”

- Tre'Quan Hayes, Mister Coppin at Coppin State University.

The Future is Bright

Hayes is focused on showcasing the legacy and promise of HBCUs. He is also working with faculty at Coppin State and Phoenix to think of ways to cover the cost of attendance.

“I want to help build pipelines to HBCUs financially and in terms of awareness,” he said.

Upon his request, the university has extended a special incentive to any Phoenix High School graduates who enroll. Students following in Hayes’ footsteps will automatically qualify for a $1,500 scholarship at the university. If their GPA is above a 2.5, they will receive $3,000. Students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher will receive $7,000, which amounts to half of the school’s 2022-2023 out-of-state tuition.

Principal Hill explained that Hayes came up with the highest figure because that is what he received from the Remynse Scholarship.

“When we got the blessed call that he had received the scholarship a few years ago, I told him, ‘Whenever it is time to give back, make sure you do that,’” Hill said. “He did so by setting up a special incentive because he understands what a difference those funds made to him.”

Hayes’ path to Phoenix High School and Coppin State University matches Coppin’s motto of “Nurturing Potential and Transforming Lives.” After being on the receiving end of encouragement and opportunity, Hayes is now poised to take a page out of his former principal’s book and inspire future generations.