L-R, Kevin Hartzog Sr., Shamarri Hartzog, and Michelle Hartzog, Kevin’s family, hold up a photo of him at his graduation from Clarke University. Behind them, one of many family photo walls in their St. Petersburg home. (Original Photo taken by Jennifer Garcia)
BY JENNIFER GARCIA | Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Last month, many university graduates took the long stride across an auditorium stage, passing the threshold into the real world. For many, this walk was a symbol of achievement, success, and honor. But for Kevin Hartzog, Jr., his stride meant something much more. It meant hope.
On May 11, 2013, Hartzog, Jr. made history by becoming the first African-American male to graduate from Clarke University Nursing program in Iowa. He is a St. Pete native who grew up in the church and participating in the community since he was little.
“This achievement, he said, “is much bigger than myself and speaks volumes for his African-American community back home.”
A Massachusetts transplant, Hartzog, Jr. moved to St. Petersburg in 1997 and grew up just minutes outside the heart of Midtown. He attended Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary, John Hopkins Middle and Lakewood High School throughout his time here. Involved in everything from football with the Lakewood Junior Spartans to the church choir, he knew his place in the St. Pete community.
“It’s a nice community of folks that cared about the kids,” said Kevin’s father, Kevin Hartzog Sr. During his college years, though miles away in Iowa, he still felt the love of his family and friends back home.
Kevin Hartzog, Jr.
“My time in St. Pete was great,” Hartzog, Jr. said. “But, it was just time to see what else the world had to offer.”
Originally, he was more football-driven and started his college dream by playing football for the University of Dubuque in Iowa. The staff that recruited him there was quickly replaced with a new one that didn’t seem to agree with his athletic abilities.
“Things were kind of looking rocky on the football field,” Hartzog, Jr. said.
Though he majored in business, he began to lose interest in his major. But one home visit during Christmas break, his mother, Michelle, “planted the seed” and mentioned he would make a great nurse because it fit his personality.
“The first thing that crept into my mind was that it was more of a women’s profession,” Hartzog, Jr. said.
In a way, he was right. According to the National League for Nursing, out of the 12 percent of African-American students enrolled in Bachelor Nursing Programs across the U.S., less than 13 percent are males. After doing some research, Hartzog, Jr. saw nursing as a challenge and a statistic he wanted to overcome. He also felt that nursing is a great profession that is economically practical.
“I’ve always dared to be different,” he said. His hope was to prove “you can still be masculine in that kind of profession.”
After hearing about the nursing program at Clarke University from friends, Hartzog, Jr. decided to transfer there to pursue a career as a registered nurse. What he didn’t realize was in the midst of hard courses and difficult exams, he would face even more adversity being the only African-American male in the program.
From the 2011-12 school year, “U.S. News” measured the ethnic diversity of Clarke University based on a formula that produces a diversity index from 0.0-1.0. In the 2011-12 academic year, they ranked Clarke University at a 0.15 for diversity.
But choosing to go against the odds took more than just his strength. Hartzog, Jr. would soon realize that the strongest support systems for this challenging time would come from his loving family and his Christian faith.
“Especially in the black community, having my dad there and having such an influence on my life molds me into the man I am,” Hartzog, Jr. said. “That right there is more admirable than any sports figure.”
Growing up at home, the family motto was “Finish the wall,” a motivational phrase that reminded him and his younger sister Shamarri to always stick with it.
“We laid the bricks; you’ve got to finish the wall so that statistics change,” Hartzog Sr. expressed. “That’s your responsibility so that the change goes on.”
And that same change in his accomplishment made lasting impressions on close friends and family. Having been college graduates themselves, both parents knew that for their children, college was an expectation.
“He absolutely soared. He was really able to give his 100 percent best, and he soared,” said his mother when he switched to nursing.
After 107 commencement ceremonies, this achievement of being the first African-American male nurse from Clarke University meant something for Shamarri, historically.
“I didn’t think boundaries still needed to be crossed,” she said. For her brother to be the first at something made her question her own potential and feel inspired to do the same.
For the African-American community in St. Pete, Hartzog, Jr.’s graduation meant hope and inspiration for the future of his generation.
A long-term friend of his, Corey Henderson, put it this way: “From where we came from, as far as our city, a lot of people we grew up with were going down the wrong path.”
According to a 2007 study done by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency: “Black youth account for 16 percent of the youth population, but represent 28 percent of juvenile arrests and 58 percent of youth committed to state adult prison.”
The achievement of Hartzog, Jr.’s graduation was a milestone in the advancement of African-American males in St. Petersburg and for Clarke University, and it’s just that kind of news that will let younger generations know that there is no limit to their achievement.
He plans to join the U.S. Air Force to be a military nurse after he passes his nursing boards this next month.