Geneva College honors Brackenridge minister as 'urban hero'

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:30 a.m.

The Rev. Mitch Nickols has many labels: pastor, teacher, newspaper columnist, TV personality. Now, Nickols can add a new title to that list: “hero.”

Nickols, of Brackenridge, was one of 18 people honored last month by Geneva College at the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry as an “urban hero.”

Urban heroes are individuals who make a difference in urban areas through philanthropic work.

The center, located in Pittsburgh's North Point Breeze section, began its Urban Heroes Program in 2010 to honor unsung community members. This is the second year the center bestowed the honors.

“I was humbled to be asked to be an honoree,” said Nickols, 60. “I was also humbled when I saw the class of people who were also being honored. There are some good folks in this class.”

On top of ministering at Bibleway Christian Fellowship in New Kensington, Nickols also teaches at Geneva, mentors students at Valley and Highlands high schools, and writes columns for the Valley News Dispatch.

All of this made him a natural fit for the award, according to John Stanko, award cofounder.

“We felt all around he's a very, very worthy candidate,” he said. “We're very honored to have Dr. Nickols in this class.”

The program published a book about the heroes in an effort to preserve their legacies.

Nickols said he strives to inspire all people to always do their best.

“There are so many young people, white and black, who could do so much better academically and socially if they just had someone telling them they could do it,” he said. “I've been down the road that some of the roads that these young people have gone down.

“I struggled writing as an early college student, and now I excel at that,” he said. “Absent from a lot of their (students') thinking are people like me who have overcome a lot of the barriers they've faced.”

Nickols said he never plans to stop his philanthropic work, and hopes that folks never stop chasing their dreams.

“Destiny does not end when you come out of college, when you get a job, when you retire,” he said. “There is always something you can achieve. We've put a cap on when we think people should do certain things.

“I'm always fascinated with the potential people have to do things they've never dreamed they can.”

Nickols said that while he's grateful for the honor, he doesn't do anything with awards in mind.

“You do what you do and then you move on to the next case or the group of people you can impact,” he said.

More “Heroes”

This year's other honorees by the Urban Heroes Program include:

• Charles Chapman, founder of Living Ministry, a nonprofit organization dedicated to befriending and supporting homeless people who live on Pittsburgh's streets.

Chapman, 29, of Pittsburgh, spends 20 hours a week with homeless people, something he began as a student at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002. His organization includes about 700 volunteers who venture into shelters daily.

• Earlene Coleman, 66, is active in the fight against violence in McKeesport, her lifelong home. Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Coleman joined other community committees to help youths and curb violence.

She is co-chair of the newly established Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health in Allegheny County.

• Sylvia Fields is considered an urban hero for her work to help women. She serves as executive director of Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Eden Hall Foundation, which is dedicated to social welfare, health, education and the arts.

Fields, 57, recently researched why female leaders of nonprofits earn less than their male counterparts. She's also working to help female veterans in Allegheny County.

Christina Gallagher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5637 or

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